I woke up as usual and took the metro to downtown Washington, DC, ready to start my day at Chorus America. It was a fairly quiet Tuesday morning. My roommates were on their honeymoon in Canada, so I had the house to myself and I felt pretty relaxed. The first I heard that anything was wrong, was actually from my friend Preethy, who was in India at the time. I was doing some data entry and had a chat window open so that I could say good night to her and she could say good morning to me.
Preethy told me that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. It was all over the news in India. I generally did not watch the news while at work, so this was indeed, news to me. I pulled up some websites and saw the pictures, and I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s horrible,” the same way I think it’s horrible when I read about other plane crashes, or that a bus has blown up in the middle east somewhere. Just another daily tragedy on the news.
Then the second plane hit. It took a few minutes for this to really sink in. Could two planes really have both accidentally hit the towers? Did the control tower have a computer glitch that altered their flight patterns? Was there an alcoholic pilots anonymous convention in town? No, it seemed like this was a premeditated act. This was more than another tragedy on the news. Someone was attacking New York.
Then the plane hit the Pentagon. I remember very clearly feeling terrified. My boss was in a meeting and everybody else was far too responsible to be opening chat windows and news websites. I was the only one in my office that knew. I got up slowly and knocked on my bosses door. I went in and said, with tears in my eyes, “One of the twin towers just fell, and the Pentagon is burning.” She gave me a very strange look, and said she’d be out in a minute. I spread the news to the rest of the office and soon we were all gathered around the conference table with a battery powered radio, listening to the news. We sat there until around noon, and then decided that people were free to go do what they needed to do. Most of them stayed in the office. They lived in Virginia, and all the bridges had been closed, so there was nowhere for them to go anyway. I left.
I ran out into the streets to find chaos. Police and military were everywhere. Every road was lined with cars; nobody was moving. People on the sidewalks were running and crying and trying to make phone calls. I didn’t have a cell phone at the time, and all the lines were jammed anyway. I had tried to call my mother earlier, to let her know I was ok, but I couldn’t get through. I decided to chance it and take the metro. Luckily, everyone was terrified of the metro that day, sure that it was a prime target for terrorists. The trains were running just fine, and I was the only one on my car. When I got off the metro at the Waterfront station, I could see the smoke from the Pentagon, rising across the river. In fact, I lived on the water directly across from the Pentagon. This was not comforting. I stared at the smoke for a while, and then went inside, sat on my couch, and watched the news for hours, feeling totally numb.
The next day I was filled with rage. I was ready to march down to a recruitment office, grab a gun, and head overseas to kill terrorists. This was a knee-jerk reaction, and after a week or so I calmed down, but sadly our country did not. Millions of Americans felt the same way I did that day, and the government exploited those feelings of fear and anger to start a war that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks.
Obama ended that war two weeks ago, but don’t be fooled into thinking that our troops have left, or that there will be no more America deaths in Iraq. This world is a messy place, and it got a lot messier on that day nine years ago.
As I reflect today on 9-11 and everything that has happened since, I am reminded of the Benjamin Franklin quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I know to some people, security is the most important thing, but I really do see it to be true that the safer you are, the less free you are. I see it in the smallest ways, in the way that the more we strap the baby into something, the less he can move. I see it in the biggest ways, in the way that I can’t brush my teeth for the weekend if I fly somewhere with only a carry-on. Ok, I still brush my teeth, but you get my meaning.
I think the phrase “then the terrorists win” is something of a joke these days. “If you don’t (fill in the blank), then the terrorists win!” It’s a punchline, but think for a minute. What do the terrorists really want? What would make them really win? They want us to be scared. They want us to have less freedom. They would really like us to start a huge war with the middle east, costing thousands, or millions or lives. So let’s go get those terrorists, but I feel, to honor those who died nine years ago, that life has to go on, and that we all need to be free.