Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where Were You?

The morning alarm, preset to the local Grand Rapids, Michigan Public Broadcast Station (PBS), was airing National Public Radio’s (NPR) morning news feed, Morning Edition.  It was a little later than usual for me because I didn’t have to open my store that day.
NPR was plodding along with their pre-recorded feed, and I was none the wiser that anything of import had happened.  Neither the local PBS or NPR thought the events unfolding on Manhattan Island merited interrupting the canned feed.  I don’t know what NPR’s excuse was, but the local PBS blamed it on having a contractual agreement with NPR to not interrupt their feed.  If memory serves (and honestly, it doesn’t always) NPR DID tell me that the President was going to be in Florida visiting an elementary school, a point they would emphasize later in their ‘objective, unbiased,’ editorialized reports following the incident.
I was in my car driving to my store when I got the first hint that anything was happening.  A Grand Rapids Country Music station informed me that they were getting reports out of New York of a major event, and would interrupt their programming as soon as they knew more. 
Running score Country Music Radio 1 – NPR 0
I arrived at my store – I have no idea of the exact time – and began my usual morning managerial procedures, when the manager of an adjacent store called out to me.  Perhaps I should clarify that I managed a custom film processing lab that was physically located inside of a copy shop.  My bosses leases the space from the copy shop which was, itself, located in a strip mall off of the first westbound exit from the interstate that ran from Lansing Michigan to Grand Rapids.
My crew were finishing off the morning newborn packages when the copy shop manager called me.  He had a TV in his office, and as I walked back to see what the commotion was all about, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in his store – customers and staff alike – was gathered around the static laced 21 inch screen.
I arrived just in time to see the second aircraft plunge through the second tower.  Once the initial round of gasps and ‘Oh my God’ had passed, we all stood slack-jawed, glued in place, staring in shock as the network replayed the loop of the impact over and over again for the now silent audience.
Silent, except for the hum or machines warming up in the background, and the occasional choked sob from the crowd watching the surreal drama unfolding before our grief stricken, and for the most part, tear stained eyes.  Then the unthinkable became the absurdly unthinkable as we watch the tower slowly crumble into a cloud of debris, dust and smoke, live and in static filled color by Technicolor on national television.
Morning Edition was winding down on NPR, its listeners outside of the Big Apple blissfully unaware that the world as we knew it had suddenly changed.
In this one, singular moment, America changed.  The invulnerable giant that was the United States of America had been brought to its knees by an act of terrorism.  We who were beyond touch suddenly shared the same sense of night sweats and uncertain fear as had our cousins across the pond sixty years earlier, under the impending threat of the Nazi U2 blitzkrieg.  If New York City wasn’t safe, where could we hide?
I tried calling my wife in Europe to tell her I was okay, but the satellites had been shut down to all but government and military feeds.  It would be the next day before either of us could get through.
Another aircraft went down in Pennsylvania, missing its intended target thanks to the bravery of a rebellious group of airline passengers who agreed, in effect, ‘not on our watch!’
Another aircraft struck the Pentagon in the wing where my brother would have been working had he not been diverted to Dulles National by his bosses during his drive into work.
A war was waged because of this day – a war fought for the right reasons, but against, it turns out, the wrong enemy.
And America changed.  A flood of patriotism this nation hadn’t seen since World War II flooded every level of the nation.  A sense of national pride and unity – a sense of purpose – a focus on a single enemy – swept and seeped into every crack and corner of a populace still stinging from Viet Nam.  It would be short lived, but it was there.  For a while, once again, America stood together, arm in arm, one nation; one nation under God.
And the question that saturated the memory of Americans in the years following the tragic events of November 22, 1963, once again danced on the lips of Americans.  Country Music icon Alan Jackson probably said it best when he penned the words, “Where were you whenthe world stopped turning?  Country Music 2 – NPR 0.
Where were you?
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