on Remembering

“Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent… we are all over the place. … I see water. I see buildings. We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low. … Oh my God, we are way too low… Oh my God, we’re —” Flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney, at the end of her phone call to a supervisor describing the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11, which struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center

My roommate and I were getting ready for work and watching the news when the first plane hit. We watched in horror as the news replayed the attacks that happened less than 30 minutes before.  When I arrived at work in downtown Phoenix a bit later, TVs had been brought into all the break rooms as the shock of what was happening unraveled what would have been a normal day at the phone company.

As the level of the continued threat was unknown, evacuations were ordered as a precautionary measure for highrise buildings in many large cities, including Phoenix. I headed home in shock, and tried to continue to conduct business as best I could remotely. When I left at 9 am, the highways out of the city looked like the evening rush hour, as so many of my fellow downtown business people did the same. It was not until I got home that I realized how eerily silent the skies had become. For the first time ever, the entire aviation industry went dark.

Afterwards, the nation tried to piece itself back together after the carnage. It was soon discovered that The Twin Towers were not only the center of so many international businesses, but they also held the Central switching offices for phone service for that entire area of New York. Those switches were now buried under tons of rubble. While the phones still worked, due to the batteries that backed up the switches, there was an incredible strain on the network voice traffic, and no one knew how long the batteries would last. Phone companies across the nation, including mine, normally business rivals, worked together to set up remote switching stations and cell towers outside of Ground Zero, sending needed equipment and personnel to New York. There were no work orders, no cost bidding- just a “what do you need, how can we help” attitude. We came together as a nation because we had work to do; only later would we have the time to come together to grieve.

One of my major international customers lost their entire data center when the Twin Towers fell. They had a small backup data center in Phoenix, but it could not handle the normal business operation of a company their size, so we were called on to expand it in order to accommodate their network traffic. We worked long hours, outside of the normal process of contracts, purchase orders and construction timelines. One of the hardest days was when we were trying to figure out something that was needed at the new site. The customer said “let me get so & so on phone and ask”, and then just as quickly, in a choked up whisper, said “wait, nevermind, I can’t… he was in New York. I will have to find someone else”. I couldn’t speak; I was crying already. But we pulled ourselves together because we had to; we would have time to grieve later.

The rest of the year was like that, with constant reminders of that which we had lost, as we worked through the national shock and the process of picking ourselves up. Eventually planes returned to the skies and  businesses slowly resumed their everyday affairs. But our world was forever changed. We now knew how much our enemy hated us; that they were willing die in order to destroy innocents and everything we held dear; that they were even willing to kill their own people in order to accomplish that goal. The normal way of war was over; no longer could hate and evil be held within the boundary of a nation-state and flag. It had gone global.

Ten years have passed since that terrible day, and I still tear up when I see pictures those towers burning, the Pentagon aflame, and the blackened hole in that Pennsylvania field.  I believe that most Americans feel the same, as we remember all that we have lost, not only on that day, but in the days following. September 11 brought us together as a nation as we both grieved and sacrificed together so that we could all stand up again. We are a nation that understands love, compassion and selflessness – qualities that are not bound by race, religion, social status or political party – while our enemy does not. Let this 10th anniversary remind us of this, and to remain united as a great nation, as no amount of hate, jealousy, or evil can undo us without our consent. May we remember the fallen, and never forget who we are.

E pluribus unum….Out of many, one.

“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew.“ President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

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