I recall on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was working on an article about an upcoming Halloween “haunted trail” that would be published in a tiny community newspaper in Kennesaw for which I served as editor. The kitchen smelled like coffee, I was still in my pajamas, and the television was a hum of white noise keeping me company in the background.
When the newscaster’s tone inexplicably changed enough to catch my attention, I glanced up from my computer in time to see live feed of a plane crashing into the second World Trade Center tower. Needless to say all trivial thoughts of pumpkins and festivals and community events left my mind as I watched one of the tallest buildings in New York City implode in billows of gray smoke and flame.
I dialed my parents to see if they had heard from my brother in Manhattan as the second tower fell, forever changing one of the world’s best-known skylines. My mind was a jumble of thoughts about current affairs, hijackings, and people — thousands of people I will never know as well as those closest to my heart. And I did not know what to feel.
My brother finally called all of us. He’d watched the whole thing from his office window: the horrible blurs of people falling. A disembodied voice on the phone, hollowed out by the impact of a terrorist’s hate slamming into the world just a few blocks from him. I could feel him in my mind’s eye; see his fingers curled white around a payphone. I knew he was groping for understanding. Like a man in a war zone.
Then I had a thought that seemed out of place in that moment about the small town articles I had been writing when the United States became the target of an act of evil. The paragraphs about pumpkins and festivals and mundane community events gained a surreal significance in light of my own feelings of outrage, fear, and concern.
The family activities woven into the fabric of our nation’s daily rhythm were the things that seemed suddenly the most precious to me, the things that felt the most affronted. I know we live in the greatest country on Earth because of our ideals — freedom, liberty, equality — but the everyday activities we associate with our society are what make life sweet.
I wondered if my sailor grandfather thought for a flash about playing baseball with his sons, putting hamburgers on the grill, or sitting on the front porch sipping lemonade on his farm in South Carolina when fire fell from the sky on ships docked at Pearl Harbor.
The bombing of the World Trade Center was my generation’s “Day of Infamy” — the streets of a great city choked in soot — but the main thing I think about when I think back is not the destruction of iconic buildings on a street. It is all the thousands of people who’ll never watch their kids play another game of Little League simply because someone somewhere else didn’t respect their right to live free.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I felt an overwhelming sense of clarity for what the United States as a country means to me: a great nation of regular people sharing day-to-day moments in communities where they have chosen to love and raise their children. I felt connected to everyone else who knows what those moments mean. All the flags on my street — they were beautiful.
As another date on the calendar passes, I don’t want to be morbid, but I do want to remember.
The senseless mass murder of American citizens is a good reason to continue to be vigilant. Now is a good time to reflect on those values Americans as a people must defend: the very way of life the terrorists were attacking.
Of course, we are free to forget, but that would be a horrible shame.
Barbara Donnelly Lane is a writer in east Cobb. She holds a Master’s Degree in English Education from Georgia State University.