by Joyce Kohl
September 11, 2001, 6:55 am I punched the on button of my kitchen television. The channel? I don’t remember. It was part of my morning ritual as I sat at my kitchen bar drinking coffee. At first I was aware of only words “airplane” and “crashed” and then realized I was watching breaking news. At 6:45 am MST [8:45 am EST], American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. As I sat mesmerized by horrifying scenes and nightmarish thoughts I couldn’t organize or assimilate, I watched another big jet heading for the towers. My God! It hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It was now 7:03 am MST [9:03 am EST]. The plane was United Airlines Flight 175. Both towers were in flames; smoke billowing from them. What was going on?
Speculated opinions, emotions, and beliefs were spewing from the news announcers. There were no definitive answers. As the news poured in and the cameras focused on the devastation, a third plane crashed. At 7:40 am MST [9:40 am EST], American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. At 7:50 am MST [9:50 am EST], the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. At 8:00 am MST [10:00 am EST] a fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into an open field southeast of Pittsburgh. Thirty minutes later, at 8:29 am MST [10:29 am EST], the North Tower collapsed.
In an hour and forty-five minutes, television viewers had witnessed the unthinkable. An attack on America.
The telephone rang. My daughter-in-law called me every morning since August 17, to let me know she was on the way to pick me up for our daily trip to the hospital. My husband, Clem, was in critical condition. On September 6, his leg was amputated below the knee. The infection continued, his vital organs were still failing, and there was talk of a second amputation above the knee. But today, our own grief was overshadowed. Quietly, with a tearful voice, my daughter-in-law asked if I had the television on. We had both been watching. We were both stunned.
Words failed me then, and I fear my true emotions and opinions might be forever tucked away in the dark crevices of my mind. I had watched everything unfold, worsen, and felt the despair of multitudes. My husband was hovering between life and death. As he went downhill, and the doctors told us to prepare for the worst, we continued to watch the news even at the hospital. Every channel suspended regular programming. People watched in silent agony.
My own reality was struggling to be strong and not fall apart. My defense mechanisms were in place though I feared that any moment, a mere touch or words of empathy would tumble my walls. I actually DID, and still do, feel honest grief for people I didn’t know. The policemen, firemen, all rescue workers, were to me unnamed heroes. Those reaching out with a helping hand, distributing water, quietly supporting the grief-stricken. They clawed through rubble endangering their own lives. It was a sight I’ll never forget. In their attempts to save strangers, many lost their lives. I saw people so layered with the dust and debris of destruction, they appeared as zombies walking out of a terrible fog. Some ran in a fear no one could understand except those in the same surreal surroundings of the continuing disaster.
I know hearts don’t really break, but I know thousands upon thousands of people have hearts riddled with hairline cracks. When I saw the buildings collapsing, all my senses left me. I could barely breathe, as I knew some of the falling objects were people. Their terror was the epitome of horror. Dear God! A nightmare to beat all nightmares. I remember requesting a Higher Power to ease their pain; that if they must die, make it quick and painless. I thought of brave people crying, and frightened people comforting others.
From all the ashes, the phoenix rises – so the story goes. But all the platitudes and all the so-called words of “comfort” are only wasted breath upon those who were directly involved; those who were numb with grief for lost family and friends. No one KNOWS what it was like to be caught in a collapsing building or suffer the anguish of those who waited for finalities.
Return of Kamikaze
In World War II, there were Kamikaze pilots trained to crash their planes with the sole purpose of destroying and killing. They took no one else with them in their suicide missions. The casualties of the terrorist “Kamikazes” not only took hundreds of lives with them, but killed thousands of others. This century’s Kamikaze are known as “Suicide Bombers” which is a most inept description.
In the name of religion, they believed themselves to be God’s chosen. That’s a belief shared and acted upon by other societies throughout the ages. The fallacy of such creeds is documented. Every war has a religious cause. Some wars are even called “holy” which, to me, is ludicrous. The tons of granite and steel containing thousands of innocent people were not the will of God, but a revolting concept of a religion which justifies inflicting death and destruction for personal gain.
Even now when I watch a movie with the twin towers looming skyward, I shudder with a thousand thoughts when I see what was and now, what isn’t in New York City. Some memories are forever. This is one of them.
For those of us old enough to remember where we were when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated, 9/11 is immortalized in both positive and negative aspects. There’s all the “gimme” fund raisers, profiteers, politicians, and many others. Wrong or not, we buy flags and clothing with 9/11 memorabilia. I’ve seen the twin towers created in crystal. I do not need to stand in line to purchase a flag, nor have a crystal figurine to remind me of 9/11/01. It is a well-remembered day. Others gain from the tragedies with lawsuits, politically oriented speeches and debates. Commercialism of horror begets complacency.
Today, I still shudder with a thousand thoughts when I see what was and now, what isn’t. Once upon a time . . . teepees, log cabins, terrorists of other ilks . . . each believing their own Higher Powers were in agreement with their killing mechanisms whether it was by arrows, guns, or suicide bombers.
I ache for victims who died, their families who remain behind to grieve. To think of their deaths reaping millions of dollars makes me wonder about the greed of a few against the grief of many. I think of the first Americans who watched their families killed and tortured by foreigners. A new country rose from the ashes, horror and slaughter. The foreign onslaught on 9/11/01 did not and never will win against the New Land inhabitants – now a melting pot of the world with the strength of all nations and cultures and religions.
One year later, as we remember what was, we Americans continue to weep for the appalling trauma of 9/11 and what is no more.