Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The view of innocence lost

Somewhere in a box of old stuff along with my High School math team letter and other keepsakes there’s a picture taken by me of my view from the top of the World Trade Center. I was 17 at the time, on my way to Israel for a month in the Holy Land. Terrorism was a very real danger, of course, about the odds of getting hit by a freight train in Waukesha. While we were in Israel the Rome airport was hit and a TWA plane was hijacked to Malta. The Egyptians stormed the hijacked plane with not-so-great results.

But all that still lay ahead while I was standing there on the top floor of the World Trade Center, more than a little intimidated by the view, looking down at the rest of New York City.

It’s a view my children will never get to see in person. And if they stumble onto that box I’ll have to tell them how Doreen and I spent September 11th praying and watching the horror unfold so horribly slow. That’s the one feeling I have never been able to escape, the feeling that it was all happening so slowly.

I remember being at work for the Commercial Controls Division at Eaton Corporation the morning of the attack and first hearing the news from a late-arriving co-worker. The first plane had hit, and she and I discussed how many years earlier a small plane had hit the Empire State Building. For some reason I thought the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a Cessna. The media wasn’t very clear yet what was happening.

Then news began to circulate that it was something much larger. Then the engineers started gathering in the conference room around a television. I remember explaining to a few people that, since a second plane had hit, it was clearly terrorism. We then discussed how terrorism needs a support base to operate: funding, facilities, some governmental support, and that very shortly we would be at war. (Despite what some people want to believe, terrorists don’t operate in a vacuum.) The engineers were discussing the collapse of the towers and how long it would take. We watched as people jumped to their deaths desperate to escape the flames. After the first tower fell, word came that Naval Controls next door was shutting down as a security precaution and we were all being sent home. The second tower fell while I was driving home. I’m still not sure where I was when the Pentagon was hit.

I remember the first time I saw an airplane in the sky after September 11th. Scared the hell out of me. It was weeks, maybe months, before I was accustomed to seeing airplanes in the sky again.

I pray that someday my children, when they are fully-grown, will be able to look into the sky and see an airplane with the same sense of joy and wonder they have now. For us, it’s an innocence lost.

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