9/11 is Still a Day for Remembrance and Reflection
By Laura Braden Quigley
(Originally posted on September 11, 2013.)
Where were you that day? What were you doing when you heard the news?
I bet that a lot of our social networking feeds are going to be filled with 9/11 memories and tributes today, and that’s a good thing.
Because consider this – at least 1/5 of the current U.S. population were too young on 9/11 to have tangible memories of that day. Put another way, most college freshmen today were toddlers in 2001.
Like the attack on Pearl Harbor and JFK’s assassination, 9/11 has now secured a permanent spot in American history, and we all have the responsibility to remember, share and pay tribute to those who sacrificed – and continue to sacrifice today. (And still sacrificing in 2016.)
I found myself that day in Washington, DC interning for CNN’s “Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff.” It started like any other … bright, blue sky and crisp air … a mad dash from my apartment to catch the Metro … waiting in line for coffee … and an early morning spent working on interview transcriptions for my producers.
As I tried to wake up and rally from a hangover, a round of gasps flew through the room. A bulletin had just gone out via CNN’s internal computer system so we had the surreal experience of “knowing” about the attacks before we actually saw them reported on TV.
Soon after, the television monitors that lined our office started to switch from their regular broadcasts to the now infamous footage of the North Tower on fire … and then a plane slamming directly into the South Tower. My boss made an announcement that interns were to evacuate or head to the main newsroom to help.
I chose the latter.
For those not familiar … CNN is located next to Union Station and a few blocks from Capitol Hill. The newsroom is on the top floor, which gave us an almost bird’s eye view of the area. (The Sacramento equivalent would be the Citizen Hotel’s ballroom or the Meridian office building above Hock and Vanguard.) It didn’t take long before we saw/heard helicopters and jets patrolling the area. And if that wasn’t surreal enough, I almost regretted my decision to stay when we spotted black smoke coming from a nearby building (the area is filled federal agency/department offices).
I was assigned to monitor two local TV stations. Anything newsworthy was typed into a system that routed the information to producers for verification before sending it to the anchor for broadcast.
The day was largely a chaotic blur, but I managed to hammer out a somewhat coherent article for my college paper during a break. I also remember the CNN team being totally professional and calm – commendable when you consider that so many were from NYC and had family/friends in the towers. When it was announced that CNN commentator Barbara Olson was on one of the hijacked planes, the woman next to me looked like she wanted to collapse into a pile of grief, but instead, she cleared her throat and dove back into her work.
Because remember this: 9/11 was before Twitter and smartphones and Facebook. Rumors were rampant (a reported car bomb at the State Departments stands out as a prime example), and providing relevant/accurate information to the American people as quickly as possible suddenly took on a whole new meaning and level of responsibility.
Around 10pm, I found myself on an empty Metro train headed home. The passengers looked shell-shocked, and the city streets were silent.
In the days that followed, we were all on edge and emotional wrecks. The combination of wanting comfort/connection and needing to feel like we were still in control of our lives led to some pretty amazing moments where I got to witness the resiliency of the human spirit.
One of the most moving moments occurred during a planned candlelight vigil in DC. At the appointed time/night, I found myself driving on the Interstate that circles the city. One by one, cars started to pull over. I saw hundreds get out, light their candles and pause from their stressful work day to show solidarity with victims and first responders.
I also remember being in NYC a few weeks after the attacks to celebrate a loved one’s birthday. I didn’t want to be a tourist, a gawker … but I couldn’t help myself. I had to see Ground Zero. I had to see the big gaping hole where so much life and commerce had once existed.
And it was predictably heart-wrenching. TV cameras simply couldn’t do the sheer scale of the site justice. It was just … massive – several square blocks surrounded by the “normal” life of hotels and department stores, largely untouched even though they sat across the street. There were “missing people” signs posted on every pole, window and fence – a living testimony (and after the recovery efforts ceased, a memorial) to what happened.
And when I visited the peaceful and moving memorial a decade later, I was glad that I looked. Glad that I could vividly remember and bear witness to that day and the weeks that followed.
Regardless of where you were or what you remember, take a moment this weekend to reflect, remember, pray, honor and/or pay tribute.
If there’s someone you’re mad at, forgive them. If you haven’t called your parents in weeks, pick up the phone. Send that email that’s been sitting in your draft folder. Do something unexpectedly nice for your co-workers. Hug your loved ones tight.
And do it in the memory of the countless families who wish they could do the same.