I was listening to cable news on XM, as usual, while driving in to work today. C-Span was replaying some tribute speeches from Wednesday during dedication of a memorial plaque to the passengers and crew of United flight 93 at the US Capitol. It evoked a mix of emotions for me and prompted a reminiscing of my personal experiences on September 11, 2001.
9/11 has become another of those dates where people will always remember where they were and what they were doing. The earliest of those kinds of dates that I recall was November 22, 1963. Granted I was only two years old at the time and, as such, have no memories of that specific day, my parents, my dad, in particular, were affected by the assassination of American president John F. Kennedy.
There have been a few other dates of significance like that that I do somewhat remember: the Challenger disaster, the bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, for example, but the magnitude of the incidents of those days seems to pale in comparison to the scope of the attacks orchestrated upon the US on 9/11.
I was in Houston, TX that day. I had gone in to work early that morning at our Houston engineering offices. I had to complete a few last minute tasks in advance of a presentation that I was facilitating for our project team to engineering and business leaders. We were seeking to achieve continued support and approval for moving ahead with a multi-million project at my home facility.
It was probably about 7 am central time when I arrived that morning. I found a vacant office in order to dock my laptop and get the finishing touches completed for the impending meeting. Once I was satisfied that preparations were as complete as they were going to be, I packed up my gear and headed off to the conference room I’d arranged for the day’s session.
Our engineering offices had little lunch room areas on each floor that, in addition to refrigerators, coffee makers and microwaves, were equipped with vending machines. And there was also a ceiling mounted television in each lunch room, typically tuned to CNN.
As I passed the first lunch room I noted that the room was packed with people, everyone’s neck craned to look at the television screen.
“What’s going on?” I wondered to myself.
The same scene was repeated at a second lunch room I passed before reaching my destination.
I busied myself setting up my laptop in the conference room, ensuring that the overhead projector was working and testing my powerpoint to confirm no technical glitches would impair our presentation.
Satisfied that all was ready, I went into the small coffee area adjoining the conference room to get some coffee and make sure a full pot of fresh coffee was available for the meeting participants. With coffee on the brew, I turned to retrace my steps back into the conference room. My eyes strayed up to the small TV sitting on top of the fridge. I watched in disbelief as the scene on CNN showed the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Black smoke billowed from near the top of the one of the towers and, as I tried to sort out in my mind what was unfolding, a jet airliner banked and flew smack into the other tower!
“What the hell was that guy thinking?!?” was the thought that immediately flashed through my mind about whomever was piloting that plane.
That this was part of an act of aggression did not enter my mind.
I re-entered the conference room to find some of the day’s meeting participants arriving and the subsequent conversation about what was going on in New York soon revealed the true nature behind the events that were unfolding.
It would take some time for me to fully grasp the enormity of what was happening that day. It would take even more time for the surreal aspects of “how everything had changed” to wear off and become “normalized”.
This morning’s replay of the tribute ceremony honouring the passengers and crew of United flight 93 makes me wonder. I’ve always thought that, if push came to shove, I would be front and center in any effort to set a wrong to right, or at least to attempt to avert a planned monstrous act, even if it were to mean the ultimate personal sacrifice. I don’t think we will ever know what we are capable of until we are presented with the “opportunity”.
For now though, it’s enough to remember all those who lost their lives on 9/11/01.