Thoughts from the Publisher and Managing Editor: 9/11 through the eyes of two generations

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Trying to dig into my memory and recall something that is decades old is a fairly difficult thing to do. But when tragedy strikes, memory makes sure you always have a thread you can tug on that will bring the whole incident back into recollection.

The events that unfolded on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York have a very different way of sticking with people, but there is one shared emotion people I talked to seemed to share: fear. Next week, we enter the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and Shanksville in Pennsylvania. Now, I don’t want to make anyone feel old, but the truth of the matter is I was 6 years old when it happened, and this is what I remember as a generational member of the last wave of millenials.

It was Tuesday morning, I believe, and I had just woken up for school. As I tiptoe in my pajamas across my toy-littered room, I creek open the door that leads into my parent’s room. My mother and father are sitting up straight in bed, holding mugs of coffee and both intensely drawn to the television screen with worried looks on their faces. This is the most vivid memory I have of that incident. I crawl into bed, no one budges, so I squeeze in between them and investigate the television screen. What I recall was seeing b-roll footage of an airport. I see airplanes parking into terminals, but trying to recollect what the news anchor was saying or what the screen text read is nearly impossible.

Regardless, I didn’t feel the fear my parents later went on to tell me everyone around them felt. For all I knew, I had to get ready for school and play during recess. I spoke to my mother about this memory recently as I tried to collect my thoughts to write this piece, and she told me that the entire day she cried. According to her, when I had walked into her room, the first plane had just struck into the north tower of the World Trade Center, and at the time, everyone thought it was an accident. It wasn’t until the second plane crashed that the words “terrorist attack” began to surface.

The world changed that day. Laws that were met with controversy were approved on the bipartisan level following the incidents of 9/11 to better analyze suspicious communications between people. Some have compared 9/11 to the Pearl Harbor attacks of 1941. As I grew older, the more clearer memories I’ve had following the aftermath of 9/11, is that of my fellow millennials going off to war, this time to most of the Middle East.

For me, remembering 9/11 focuses on thinking of those that lost their lives that day. Some people walked out the door to go to work and never came home. Although I wasn’t old enough to remember most of it, and the conversations that took place and the arguments that I’m sure plagued national television, one thing I do remember is the small thread of memory that was left behind, and all I have to do is tug on it.

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As nearly every one of us is aware, next Wednesday marks the 18th anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy. It is usually referred to as 9/11 (pronounced as nine – eleven) – the perfect metaphor since 9-1-1 (pronounced nine-one-one) is the emergency telephone number for the North American Numbering Plan (NANP). I wonder if the evil plot was planned for that day as a way to mock us – or if the date was randomly chosen and was just a coincidence. Hmmm?
I vividly remember that September day. I was 46 years old at the time, and I had started the Signal Tribune a little over a year before. Summertime had brought us lots of local events to cover and quite a bit of neighborhood news to report. When the phone rang so early that morning, I knew there had to be something wrong. When I answered, the person on the line was speaking unintelligibly in a hysterical-sounding voice. Once I discovered that it was a member of my staff who was speaking, I asked her to please slow down and tell me what the hell was going on. All I could decipher was “turn on the television, turn on the television!” When I asked her what happened she screamed, “a plane hit the twin towers in New York!”

Once I turned on the television, I saw what she was referring to. What an amazing shock. For the next hour Steve and I had our eyes glued to the images and couldn’t believe what we were seeing was true. I switched back and forth from channel to channel to see if I could find any other information than what I saw and heard from the previous network I was watching. No, it was all the same.

Jumping forward 18 years, I don’t remember if the second plane hit as I was watching live, or if the film I saw was a rerun of earlier happenings. I do remember tearing myself away from the set, not before I called my mother and told her what was going on, and taking my small television to work so my entire staff could follow the tragic events of that morning that were literally unfolding before our eyes.

That event forever changed my sense of well-being into a constant sadness and fear of what was yet to come. I truly believe that the September 11 event erased so much of the prejudice our country’s people had overcome. I further believe that we have become a “we/they” society much more than I had ever experienced. Now, not only do we have a renewed-prejudiced toward people of color, we now have a huge rift between political parties that I never saw before. In my heart I feel we are once more in a civil war– it is now one of no uniforms or blatant visual cues of the “enemy,” it is instead a battle fought mostly online through ugly words and images. I pray that these circumstances will end before my soul leaves this earth.

Hope is passive, action is what is necessary for change. I leave you with this well-known quote from the Dalai Lama: “A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you. I believe compassion to be one of the few things we can practice that will bring immediate and long-term happiness to our lives.”