I don’t pretend to have some major, intense, wonderful insight into the events that re-shaped our world.
Make no mistake, though, they re-shaped it.
I was home sick on this day, 11 years ago. I had a severe case of bronchitis. I had wanted to go into work anyway and my wife convinced me I shouldn’t. It was just after 8:46 am ET that I was on the phone with one of the investigative reporters at my station. I can’t remember if I called her, but I believe she’d mistakenly called me . . . because my number was close to our boss’ number. When I talked with her she said she needed to get hold of our boss because they were trying to figure out what to do about the plane that hit the World Trade Center tower.
I hung up with her and my phone rang. I was to grab my travel bag and head to the airport – the other reporter told me we were heading to New York. By sheer coincidence we’d been working all week on terrorism stories, these involving HAMAS and Hezbollah. We thought this might have implications, the FBI and Bush Administration were involved in those busts.
On my way, not even halfway to the airport, the phone rang. I was listening on the radio and heard the news already – all flights had been grounded. I’d endured a screaming match and breathless running due to my bronchitis from my wife for nothing. We’d already sent 3 or 4 crews in cars East as it was. I was home. I hated hearing that the biggest news story of my journalistic era was unfolding before my eyes and I wasn’t going to be a part of it. I was determined not to be out of the mix. My wife, in frustration, went to work and threw her hands up, unaware at the time what was coming.
Sometime after the Pentagon was hit and the towers were burning my daughter – then only 7 – came in the door. I was in my home office on a speaker phone with the two reporters digging through documents from the feds. Was it the busts we’d worked on or was it coincidence? We weren’t even going to pitch a connection unless we had one and I couldn’t find one. Was it Hezbollah? Or was it that bizarre group that Clinton had bombed in the late ’90s when everyone thought he was “wagging the dog” to get out of the Lewinsky scandal?
I heard my daughter change the channel. I knew, because the grating, high-pitched laugh of Spongebob Squarepants was emanating from the TV. I walked in and told her to turn it back.
“Because I need to see this, kiddo . . . and so do you. We’ve been attacked.”
Even at 7 she made the Pearl Harbor connection so many news stations had heralded. I was on the phone when I heard Abbi scream “Daddy! The building’s falling down!”
We watched first tower one . . . then two fall to the ground.
The next day – which would be the 12th – also the day you’re likely reading this – teachers asked kids if they saw what happened or talked with their parents about it. I had taken the position that my daughter should understand what was happening. She needed to see that her world now, forever, was changed. She needed to know why – in the months to come – her Dad and Grandpa would be singled out for “random selection” every time they went to the airport. (It’s not every time now, but in those first few . . . sheesh) She needed to know that sometimes, people who don’t understand and are ignorant of what Americans are really like don’t get curious – they get scared. People often attack what they don’t understand, these people were no different.
I also wanted her to know that this was terrible, horrible, and very scary, but it’s not something she should walk around all day, every day, worrying about. Attacks like this take time, planning and a bit of insanity to plan out. We will be far more vigilant from now on.
I took a lot of flack that following day . . . days . . . for allowing Abbi to watch the events of 9/11 unfold. But you know what? She watched as the story of the passengers on the plane crashing in Pennsylvania saved countless lives at the expense of their own. She saw tragedy unfold and how people survived, unaware that ten years later she’d lose her Mom not to terrorism but to a bacteria. Parents pronounced horror at the fact I’d possibly allow my child to watch such a tragedy unfold . . . but many others felt I was justified and agreed with me.
Weeks later, I made my way to Washington to pursue stories of how this could have happened. We f0und the Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS, had allowed massive flaws in the visa system that allowed terrorists into the country. I was in Israel on New Year’s in order to see how a country that deals with terrorism responds each day . . . and how tourism there was affected by our own attack.
Now, I look to those days and think with pride how my daughter weathered that day. We went to the airport, months later, and I was asked to “step over here, sir,” but she knew why it was happening. She saw that I traveled the country and the world and came home safe.
Ten years later, when she lost her Mom, it wasn’t to terrorists, it was to a resistant strain of pneumonia. That hurt more than what happened when we had the television running with my little girl watching history unfold.
9/11 changed the world. What it didn’t change, though, was us. We learned then and know today – we’re stronger together than when we’re apart.