Saturday, September 11


Just as I grew up with the question, "Where were you when JFK was assassinated?" our children will hear forever, "Where were you on 9/11?"

I was dressing for work (running late) and, as is my routine, listening to the news with one ear. My college-aged son came into my room to remind me that I had promised to give him a ride to class before going to the office, when we both were suddenly riveted by the news that a plane had flown right into the World Trade Center. Both of us threw ourselves down in front of the
TV for a few minutes and then realized that we had to get going. We turned on the radio in the car and listened to the news as we drove through Dallas morning traffic. We speculated almost immediately that it was a terrorist attack, and then suddenly the radio was telling us that reports were coming in that there'd been an explosion, or possibly another plane crash, in the vicinity of the Pentagon. That decided us -- America was under attack by terrorists.

After dropping Silmarill off, I raced for my company's Board Room, which has an enormous video projection system. I found there about a dozen of my coworkers, among them my CEO and most of the senior management team. Together we saw the second plane hit the WTC, then later watched in horror as the Towers began to collapse. Almost all of us had some personal connection to the events we were witnessing. My CEO's daughter, a CBS news producer, had an assignment that put her in the vicinity. My own daughter's Russian college friend, who had spent holidays with our family, was an investment banker officed in the WTC. Cantor Fitzgerald, which suffered such horrendous human losses that day, was our company's broker. Through our shock and our grief, a constant refrain was, "Where's the President?" Other questions included, "Why weren't the second and third planes shot down?" and "Is everybody in the government sleeping?" It wasn't until the next day that we'd all been able to account for the safety of all those we were concerned about.

The next few days are kind of a blur in my mind, a montage of images and events. People were kind to one another and briefly, our differences seemed not to matter so much as our common victimhood. My oldest daughter bought out the Army/Navy store's supply of gas masks and chemical suits (they're stored now in our garage in a box marked "End of the world gear"). My CEO gave instructions for us to set up a relief fund for the victims (the company ultimately contributed more than $1 million). People in the office (I'm famous for being a Democrat in an enclave of Republicans, and my dismay at Gore's loss was well known) started coming up to me and saying, "Now aren't you glad that Gore lost and Bush is president?" I didn't get that one. As far as I could see, Bush had done exactly nothing, so why should I be glad he was president? It was a bewildering experience; it was almost as if they thought the events of 9/11 had validated their vote.

On 9/12 and again on 9/14, I had to take a cab. On both occasions my driver was an Arab-American and both of them made a point of telling me how much they loved the USA and how committed they were to the American way of life. One of them went so far as to show me his mortgage papers -- he was in the process of buying a house. The other gave me a detailed account of his conversion to Christianity. I was both moved by their stories and saddened that they might think I'd object to an Arab driver unless he could prove his loyalty to things American. Being a bleeding-heart liberal, of course, it never crossed my mind.

I bought a window-mounted American flag for my car. I directed our art department to design a poster for our employees -- the final product was simple and masterful, a scene of the NYC skyline with the Twin Towers still standing superimposed over a waving American flag screened to a pale shade, and the words "--------- (company name) remembers." I wept and prayed for the families and took pride in the heroic and selfless actions of our firefighters, police, construction workers, medical professionals and volunteers.

My psychologist sister-in-law spent more than a month near Ground Zero offering free counseling services to the grieving.

I don't have any ennobling thoughts to illuminate the history of that day. It was a tragedy of gargantuan proportions. But tragedies of that nature bear more similarities than not. Could we feel worse than we did after the Oklahoma City bombing? How can you grieve more than completely?


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