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Ten Years After
World Trade Center, New York, New York
Everyone has his or her own perspective on the events that occured September 11, 2001, and no two are exactly the same. One thing that can be said is that our world is much different than it was before that terrible event. Here is the story as I lived it, not in New York, Pennsylvania, nor Washington DC, but in Wichita, Ks. It was a world apart, over fifteen hundred miles distant, yet somehow remarkablly close. I would guess much of the nation feels that way.
September 11, 2001, morning
The morning of September 11th, in 2001 started out the same way for me that most mornings before that time did. My wife and I worked nearly identical schedules, and commuted back and forth using just one vehicle. Most days we were able to eat lunch together as well, and with the kids all grown, life had settled into an easy going routine.
My job was in a parts warehouse, working in sales. Our customer base was nationwide and things had been busy to the point of frenzy lately. Myself, and nine or ten other people had the task of handling phone calls as they came in an unending stream. A supervisor was allowed a radio, but seldom listened, and obviously there was no TV, so we were a little bit cut off from newscasts. Internet access was allowed for business and an occasional personal use so long as only approved sites were visited and it didn't interfere with our work.
According to reports, the first plane hit the north tower at eight forty-six AM eastern time. Wichita is one hour later than New York City, so at the local time of seven forty-six, I was still on my way to work. My shift started at eight AM and I was required to clock in between seven fifty-five and eight o'clock. Due to this, I missed any eight o'clock newscasts that might have broadcast the events as well.
My wife's job as a billing supervisor for a local phone company was a little less regimented. She heard the news soon after arriving, and called me within a few minutes of my clocking in. Looking back it seems it took a lot longer for her to notify me, but then the entire days looms as a longer than normal twenty-four period. While I was digesting the news, she called again to tell me about the second tower. Up until that time I, like many Americans thought it was just a small aircraft that had hit, possibly by accident.
Her third call was to tell me that the south tower had collapsed. It was a little while later, news of the north tower's collapse reached us. During all that time. the people on my team tried to find out more, but our only source of information was the Internet, and it seemed little was reaching us. Customers who called in to order things sometimes could offer a little more, but by and large, their focus was on business and they like us probably realize the enormity of things. I and remember being frustrated and discouraged by their "business as usual" demeanor.
Trade Center after fire and collapse
I really hate to admit it, but until that day, I knew little about the World Trade Center. It was built during my late teen years and opened for business as I crossed over into adulthood. But things in New York had little direct bearing on the activities of people in east central Kansas in those times and unless one was "tuned in" to things beyond the box we lived in, the place became just another feature of the largest city in the country. Even after moving to the larger town of Wichita with people involved in national interests, I can only recall one reference being made to this future target.
This reference regarded the Epic Center built at 302 N Main Street. It features a tall tower, although short by New York standards and was hoped to be a center of commerce for Wichita, and bring large volumes of money and prosperity to town. The individual who made the reference made a comparison to the WTC since plans for the Epic Center at the time called for two towers instead of the current one. It was also in the expectations that having such a commerce center in town would lead to increased exports of Kansas manufactured items, bringing more cash in as trade opportunities opened up.
Then when a truck bomb detonated at the WTC in February of nineteen ninety-three, people who had previously been lacking on knowledge were offered a chance to learn a little about New York. They also became aware that terrorist attacks could happen on US soil.
Life Before 9/11
Just for a walk down memory lane, I did a little research on how things were before the Islamic Jihad changed it for us. Going back several years before the jets hit the towers, I recall a time when there was little security at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. I flew in and out of there a number of times and although checked luggage was sometimes screened, few other precautions were in place. In fact, occasionally, people would go there simply for the purpose of watching planes land and take off. Wichita was a town built on aviation, and every Boeing manufactured jet that came it to the airport featured parts made in Wichita. In addition, a number of smaller planes, Cessnas and Beechcrafts, also locally built used the facility's general aviation department for their flight needs. I don't remember exactly when that changed, but I do remember that in April 2000, we were allowed to accompany our daughter to the gate in order to see her off on her honeymoon. Now non-ticketed travelers aren't allowed in the gate area at all.
News wise prior to that day, it seemed a little slow. There was still some angst regarding the election results in Florida, and Chandra Levy, the intern connected to California Congressman Gary Condit, was still missing. The economy was holding its own in Wichita, but other parts of the nation were having difficulties. Gasoline was around a dollar-sixty per gallon.
In Afghanistan, the leader of a rebel group narrowly survived an assassination attempt when two men posing as reporters successfully came close enough to detonate a bomb hidden in a camera. The leader was believed to have survived with serious injuries, but a bodyguard was killed. The man fled to a nearby country, and a few weeks later, US troops arrived.
Living that Day
After the initial news releases the day of the attacks, it seemed to me the day drug on without end. Maybe it was the increased use of bandwidth or simply a lack of information but details were in short supply. During the afternoon as the full import sunk in, the business end of things slowed down, and time between incoming calls became longer and longer. This allowed people more time to worry about things and I found myself anxious to be home. When we finally arrived, my wife and I sat glued to the TV watching the story unfold. We watched in pain, and horror, the stories, pictures and videos of people trapped at the tops of the towers jumping in desperation knowing that they faced death either way. We felt indignant seeing new about people in the Mid-East, holding celebrations and dancing in the streets. Sadly, the dead and wounded included Muslims along with people of nearly every nation and creed on earth. The hatred displayed by these actions demonstrated the division the world knew then and has known ever since.
Epic Center, Wichita, KS
Enemies at Home
As I stated earlier, Wichita is far removed from New York City, and even though we felt the blow that was struck at us as a nation, there in the heartland, we were still not directly affected by the actual events. The fire, the sound of bodies hitting the ground, and the choking dust and smoke were things that horrified us as we understood what was happening. My employer had hired a team of people who were all of local origin. There were no minorities working there, no one who wasn't a white caucasian. No Hispanics, no Asians, no native Americans. I have no idea if the owner was prejudiced or if suitable applicants from other ethnic groups never applied, but those who worked there were generally all of one mind.
At my wife's job things were different. They employed a number of blacks, Hispanics, a woman who immigrated from France, and a man who was a native of Malaysia. All of them except the latter felt shock, horror, and dismay at the attack. The Malaysian man, who was an Islamist from an Islamic country heard the news and laughed. He laughed in the presence of people who were weeping, content to take what the US had to offer him in the short term but aligning himself with their enemies when trouble came. So far as I ever heard, no one confronted him for his behaviour and while it might be regrettable, it's probably just as well.
A few days after the attack, a co-worker came in with a story and large questions looming in her mind. For some reason, she was off that day, and noticed something that caught her interest near her home in Northeast Wichita. She and her husband lived in an apartment complex that housed a wide diversity of people, and as the news of the attack was being broadcast, she observed three men who appeared to be of Middle East descent hastily leave their apartment nearby, get into a vehicle and depart. It didn't appear odd, until a few days later, she realized they had never returned. She had never met them, didn't know their names, and could only say they had been courteous but distant the entire time they had lived there. She also said something about the furniture she had seen in the few opportunities that presented themselves and remarked it seemed spartan, as though they had no long term plans to live there. She asked several of us if she should contact the police. I told her I thought she should, since at the time we were all being encouraged to report anything suspicious. I never heard if she did.
Andre and the Six Degrees of Separation
Around the time my wife was hired, one of her co-workers was given a job also. He was a young black man who to me seemed to resemble Sidney Poitier. He spoke with a similar accent, although maybe a little stronger, and looked a little like the actor as well. He was heavier built and maybe a little taller and from all I've heard a very good worker. His name was Andre.
Andre wan't a native of Wichita. I don't remember where he came from, but it seems like I heard maybe Chicago. Anyway, he wound up in Wichita with his wife, and he had a sister who moved to New York. I only socialized with him on a couple of occasions, but found him to be intelligent, articulate, and witty.
A few years back I heard about a concept called the six degrees of separation. If you've heard of it you might know what I'm talking about, but if not, it's simply the idea that everyone in the world in separated from everyone else by only six layers of introduction. For example, I currently work in a small town named Corvallis, Oregon. Some of the people I work with have connections to Oregon State University. Craig Robinson is the head coach of the men's basketball team at the university. He is also the older brother of the First Lady of the United States. So without too much of a stretch, I could speculate that some of my co-workers might have connections to Robinson who could then conceivably introduce me to Barack Obama. And this might be able to happen in six or fewer steps from the people I know through the people they know and so forth.
In the case of Andre, however., it is considerably fewer than six steps. since I met him and would only have needed an introduction to his sister to have known personally someone who died in the events at the WTC. After moving to New York, his sister took a job in one of the towers and was presumed to be inside at the time of the crash. She probably was still inside still when the collapsed occurred. He family never saw her nor talked to her afterward. They tried to call her on her cell phone, but got no answer until her phone was later found by someone else. The individual kept the phone and answered a call from the family. They didn't know anything about Andre's sister or her fate. No body has ever been recovered, and it's presumed she was lost without a trace as were so many others in the towers' collapse. I wonder how many other people in our nation are only a few degrees from knowing personally, someone who died that day.
In the weeks following, America went through a grieving process consisting of all the normal steps from denial to acceptance and I did as well. President Bush told Americans to live life in spite of this, go to planned events, enjoy life, celebrate America, because to do otherwise would be to yield to the thrust of terrorism and allow terrorists to win. Wichita tried, and finally succeeded. For a few weeks, even joyful events went on beneath the pall of melancholy and sorrow but eventually life came back to normal. Still it was a new normal. In a very short period of time, armed forces were dispatched to Afghanistan and war ensued. Victory was announced very early on, not surprising since the most advanced military in the world was taking on that of a third world nation, yet it goes on today, and efforts to establish a democracy have proved difficult.
Very shortly afterward, and maybe predictably, war also was levied at Iraq. Speculation, accusations, and finger pointing have gone since, but both conflicts still continue, and even a change in political parties holding power have not brought an end to fighting. In fact, unrest in the area as a world region have spread to at least three other nations causing replacements of long time leaders in some cases and upheavals in others. It hasn't been discussed much how great an effect the wars have had. We know in some cases like Pakistan, animosity toward America may be growing.
It was hoped by many, myself included, that our forces would locate Osama Bin Laden early, and deal with him and Al Qaeda so we could move on. Instead, the hunt took nearly ten years, and America suffered each day of that ten year period. The unity and patriotism that swept over us on 9/11and the days following dissolved disturbingly quickly to be replaced with issues about whether to rebuild the WTC, where, how, and if a mosque should be allowed nearby. It seems safe to say America has much healing to do.
As I write this, it is September 11, 2011. The time is about 10:45 PST, and the TV news has been full of coverage of the days' events, including the memorials occurring today, and the accounts of what went on ten years ago. Occasionally a break for local coverage and weather forecasts are included. Our forecast for the Willamette Valley is for an uncharacteristically hot day, with temperatures in the nineties. It's been that way for the last week or longer and fire danger is rated high to extreme due to high temps, low humidity, and possible wind. It seems we are mimicking Texas where a lot of damage has already been done. At least the people I know in Kansas have got some relief after one of the hottest, driest years in history.
But if I or someone else were to book a flight from Portland International Airport to anywhere in the country, we would be told to show up for the flight two hours early to allow for proper screening, pack only approved items in approved containers, of approved sizes, and don't leave our baggage unattended. We would be subject to search from magnetic sensors, naked body scanners, possibly invasive pat downs, and forced to remove shoes, and any article of clothing with metal on it. We'd have to empty our pockets of all items, expose cameras, laptop computers, and other sensitive electrical items to X Rays, and risk the loss of valuable personal property.
We hear our government touting the benefits of keeping the population safe as critics point out that none of these measures have discovered a single threat. Bombers have tried to conceal explosives in shoes and underwear, and have plotted targets with bombs hidden in trucks, and other vehicles while trying to hit us in our most vulnerable area, that of the trust we place in people who are undesersving of it.
What does the future hold? That remains to be seen. Looking at the way things are today, I ask the question of why is there so much hatred against America from the groups who strike out against us. It didn't start with Bin Laden, and his claim that Americans needed to leave Saudi Arabia which he declared was holy ground. It didn't start with the capture of Americans held hostage by Iran when the Shah was deposed and the nation overtaken by Muslim extremists. It didn't really even start at the time of the crusades when the Pope launched war against those who held Jerusalem. This conflict is nearly as old as modern man.
So again, what does the future hold? Well, tomorrow I will get up and start a new work week. It will most likely go the way my work weeks have gone for the last several years. I will deal with the tasks the day presents, eat my lunch and come home. We'll have an evening meal, go about our usual pursuits, and repeat the next day. At the same time we'll set long term plans and goals, such as vacation at a specific date, complete the purchase of this item on such and such day, and so on. These things will continue because life goes on. That is until the next catastrophe strikes. It may be a terrorist attack, a brutal earthquake, since no place in the country seems safe from them anymore, a tornado outbreak, a rogue hurricane, or if the astronomers are correct, an asteroid or comet strike. We can't know anything except that we wil again be tested. Will we pass?