Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001 - My Perspective

It has been years in the making.  I have wanted to spend more time writing and sharing my views on the sports world with, well, the world.  I am finally in the position to do so.  However, before I ever post a blog regarding the world of sports, I wanted to share something far more personal.

Ten years ago, the United States and the world was rocked by an act of terrorism no one on US soil could have predicted.  The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would produce images of horror and sadness that no one of my generation was prepared for, nor had we ever seen anything like it.  That morning and the subsequent days gave my generation a reality check that we could not have prepared for.  This was our Kennedy Assassination.  This was our Pearl Harbor.  This was our moment in time that our children will ask us about.  The difference is that our moment was televised and captured in so many different ways that millions of stories have come out.  It’s amazing to read the true stories of heroism that occurred that day.  It’s heartbreaking to read the stories of loss.  I do not have a story of heroism to share.  I watched in horror as events unfolded on live television, like millions of people did.  Despite this, I would like to share my memories of this horrific and monumental day in US history.

I fell asleep late on the night of September 10th at my home in Des Moines, Iowa.  My beloved hometown Denver Broncos had defeated the visiting New York Giants on Monday Night Football and I had gone to bed happy.  As usual, I went to bed with my television on.  I had a tendency to fall asleep while watching a movie or SportsCenter on ESPN.  I had to wake up early the next morning to drive downtown and attend a manager’s meeting for the movie theatre company I was working for at the time.  I woke up to an image on the screen that did not seem real, a commercial airplane flying directly into a building.  Given the unreal nature of the image, I assumed my television was on HBO or Showtime, not remembering what I fell asleep watching the night before.  I got out of bed, turned the television off and headed into the bathroom to shower up for my meeting.  My routine was to put a CD in and listen to music as I got ready so I was unaware that any news was being relayed over the radio.  I finished getting ready and jumped in my car, still oblivious to the historic events and news transpiring.

When I arrived to the office, there was a general disbelief of what was going on.  By the time I arrived, the second plane had been flown directly into the second tower.  The chatter from other manager’s was speculation as to what was going on; one plane is an accident, two planes is a trend.  I had no idea what they were talking about so I intently listened but still was no sure about the scope of what happened in New York.  The manager’s meeting went as they usually did, minimal information and listening to the VP talk.  It was a much shorter meeting than usual and people dispersed in a hurry once the meeting was over.  It was at this time that I realized what was going on.  I jumped into my car, but instead of listening to my music, I turned on the radio.  Every station was talk radio.  It was all news that had pre-empted the regular broadcasting of music.  I listened as they described the horror going on in downtown Manhattan.  Remember, I had only seen the first building on fire and thought it was a movie so it had not hit me yet.  The image entered my head and then went right out after I turned the television off.

As soon as I walked into my basement apartment, I turned on my main television and sat down.  It was roughly thirty minutes before the first tower collapsed and I was catching up on what was going on.  The moments I witnessed could not be worse.  The flames.  The plane slamming into the tower.  The people rushing from the area and the newscasters describing the horror.  The images that left an indelible mark in my mind were far more distressing.  I had witnessed paper and debris falling from the sky like a “twisted ticker tape parade”, as one news source described it.  The images I could not get over were the people hundreds of feet in the air deciding that their time on this Earth was over and jumped from the windows that had been blown out by the explosions within the Two Towers.  Can you imagine?  During those moments, people had decided that it was not possible to survive this.  They were located too high and instead of suffering from smoke inhalation or burns, they jumped.  I recall a person putting their arms in the air and then jumping, giving themselves to God and hoping to go quick.  As I look back now, 10 years later, I’ve put myself in their shoes.  As much as anyone would want to fight and live through, the realization that you wouldn’t see your family and friends again is heart wrenching.  I could only imagine thinking of my wife Rachel and my son Marshall, hoping they knew the love I had for them.  When I just saw the building on fire, it didn’t resonate with me the loss of life within.  Once I saw those people plummeting to their unfortunate end, the pain and horror of what occurred sunk in.

I sat frozen for most of the day.  I watched as more stories came in about the Pentagon and from United flight 93.  Hearing about the heroism from flight 93 made me proud.  They fought knowing that they would likely perish, but they were not going to let that plane hit another building.  I recall making two phone calls that day.  I talked to my Dad in Colorado.  Details of that call escape me but there was just something comforting knowing they were fine.  There were so many news sources “reporting” that more targets could be attacked that day.  No one felt safe.  The second call was to my friend Carl.  We essentially watched TV together for a few minutes, rarely speaking but wanting to have someone there to talk in case words came to us.  In all honesty, there were no words.  How can you describe this?  The only words that came to mind that day were horror, sadness, heroism, chaos, cowardice, unity and patriotism.  There were too many emotions to describe in words.

I do not recall when I stopped watching that day.  If memory serves, I essentially just passed out from the emotional toll it had taken.  I did not know anyone there but seeing it all happen took a toll I could not describe.  I woke up the next day and despite not wanting to see any more, I could not turn off my television.  I got ready for work and went to the theatre, listening on the radio as I drove to work.  The theatre was expectedly slow, even for a Wednesday.  My assistant manager, Stephanie, was there also but I could tell she needed to go home.  She was part of the Iowa National Guard and no one really knew what her future held.  I just remember the look of pure sadness on her face when I arrived.  There’s nothing you can do or say to help someone in that scenario.  I let her go home.

The rest of that day was unlike any other.  People came in to see movies, yet I’m not sure anyone actually saw one.  The faces of people I knew well were blank, clearly drained of all emotion and just needing to be away from the house watching obsessively what was transpiring.  We watched the world change right in front of us.  Our feeling of security was gone.  Our belief that horror like this could happen everywhere but here had disappeared all in 102 minutes.

The first mass gathering of people in the United States happened in Houston that Thursday.  While it is not something regularly reported, I think the men and women of World Wrestling Entertainment should be commended for starting to get thing back to normal.  They did a live show as fans gathered to chant “USA” throughout the show.  Vince McMahon gave an amazing speech to start the show.  Lillian Garcia sang the national anthem with such emotion that she broke down at the end.  In between matches, there was a performer sitting in front of the camera telling you their feelings.  Seeing these performers, some of which with family in New York, made it possible to get these emotions out.  It is odd to have professional wrestlers be the reason I could finally cry, but to listen to them and see their reactions that mirrored America’s emotions, it finally gave me the go ahead.

Ten years later and we are back to our normal day to day lives, but there are images and emotions that we will never forget.  The one thing, above all, that I like to remember from those few days of Hell can be summed up in one word.  Unity.  We didn’t care about Republican or Democrat.  We didn’t care about white or black.  We simply care about helping our fellow person.  I saw it in New York.  I saw it in Des Moines.  People were just more caring during that time.  The world seemed unified and love came pouring in.  Ten years after the horror, let’s remember those fallen but also, let’s remember the love and unity.  We just might make this world a better place in the end.

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