I love my country. Of all the traits instilled in me by my Mom and Dad, a sense of patriotism is among the ones I hold most dear. I’m free to express my opinions and pursue a career I wouldn’t be able to in most other nations throughout human history. I’m inordinately blessed to be an American today. That Patriotism also requires a look back at the saddest chapters of my country’s history. Today is one such milestone, and one I was alive for.
September 11th, 2001 is a day marked by fear and pain. I was only seven years old that day, but I knew as it unfolded that something horrible happened. I grew up in West Hartford, CT. It’s a border town. It’s 50/50 between Red Sox fans (New England/Massachusetts based folks) and Yankee fans (New York based). I knew people who’s parents worked in the World Trade Center or had family in New York. I didn’t know any of them, but my parents had coworkers and business associates who lived in and worked in the city. I was aware that my mom and dad went to New York for business. And my grandparents (Mom’s side and obviously knew well) were native New Yorkers from Manhattan. I myself am a son of New England, but I have my share of New York connections.
I remember seeing the teachers of my school seeming distressed that day. I think they knew what we would come to remember 9/11 for before us kids did. We went home early. I could walk to my elementary school, and walked home by myself. When I got back, I walked into our den where my brother and Au Pair were parked in front of the television. I turned the corner and saw the second tower come down. I don’t remember if it was live or if it was a clip of an earlier happening. But regardless, I didn’t fully understand what I saw, but I knew it was awful. Our Au Pair, who normally was pretty talkative was completely silent, shocked by what we all saw.
My dad regularly talks about how they wheeled out televisions into their office, unusual to have in 2001, to watch the ongoing news. My mom was abroad, traveling to Poland. She was intending on traveling back the next morning, on her birthday no less, and was stuck in Poland for a week after the attacks.
Beyond the immediate aftermath, I grew up in a political world shaped by that day and the reaction to it. I still remember debates about how to conduct the War on Terror, discussion around the 9/11 attacks in the 2004 election cycle, and the days when Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin were captured and killed. It is the single most significant and impactful day, politically and practically speaking, I’ve ever experienced. I recently had the chance to remember and reflect on that day at Ground Zero.
Back in August, I covered The Northern Trust golf tournament held at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City. There are spectacular views of downtown Manhattan from all over the course, most notably from the 18th fairway (where this picture is from). It’s the most distinct and famous skyline in the world. The Freedom Tower is a beautiful piece of that skyline today, almost an iconic piece along with the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. Even still, there still is a visual hole in the string of buildings with just one tower that looks different from the original Twin Towers. I don’t have a clear memory of seeing NYC before 9/11. But even I can tell there’s a hole that shouldn’t be there.
On an early day of the week, when it was just practice and interviews, and after I submitted my pieces for the day, I took a trip into lower Manhattan and went to the World Trade Center. I had been there only once before, back in 2006, as part of a family trip. And it was a construction site back then. The Memorial fountains weren’t installed and the Museum wouldn’t be opened for another eight years. But it was still harrowing to imagine that bustling stretch of New York under siege by hijacked commercial airliners. Since then, the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum opened and serve as a beautiful reminder of the terror and heroism on display that day.
I didn’t get to the museum. It had closed for the day and my friend who works there was out of the country. But seeing the memorials and the fountains in the footprints of the Twin Towers was a harrowing experience. The air around there is somber. The memory of the day and what existed before 8:46 AM has never left the area. Seeing the memorials and names of the workers in the buildings, pilots and crew on the planes, the police, Port Authority officers, and firefighters is a gutting thing. The site is so beautifully maintained. Yet, I could not help but imagine hearing the sounds crashing planes, fearful pedestrians, and falling metal that have been seared into my memory from all the news clips and documentaries of the day. The contrast of the sounds with the present day site is a remarkable contrast, and an inseparable one for me, despite being 122 miles away from Ground Zero that day.
Reflecting on 9/11 is sad. I didn’t directly know any of the victims, But my country was irreparably changed that day. And it’s impossible to look at the pictures and names and not be saddened by how raw the day was. It from the first hijacking to the second tower collapsing (a time which included the Pentagon attack and the United 93 crash in Shanksville) was only about two and a half hours. And the world changed permanently in that time.
It’s also invigorating in a way. The heroism of the firefighters, police officers, people like Welles Crowther, the amazing civilians on Flight 93, and many more are a wonderful reminder of how much good exists and how the human spirit is resilient. May God be with the families of the victims this day and forever. And God bless the United States of America.