I wrote this back in 2004. America has changed dramatically over the last ten years, and one of the root causes of that change was 9/11. The financial cataclysms were still seven years away, but the September attacks were the beginning of seismic changes in America, changes which continue to unfold today.
...The day started out all wrong.
My PC was on the fritz. By the time I fixed it I was running late for work.
Driving to the office, my car radio stopped working. My old Ford had a loose radio wire, and I often had to jiggle it into just the right spot to make the radio work. About every third pothole, it would come loose, and I would have to fidget with it to find the "sweet spot." This particular morning, I couldn't find that sweet spot for the life of me, so I had no radio. I realized suddenly I also had no money for lunch.
I stopped at a mini-mart ATM machine. The ATM was broken. My mood, already foul, was growing worse by the second as I walked back to my car. These silly things really seemed like big deals to me at the time. Back in my car, I took a few seconds to fiddle with the radio and finally got it working just in time to hear a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
I looked at the sky…the Wyoming Valley is only about 130 miles from Manhattan. The day was gorgeous, the sky clear. I remember thinking, "…how on earth could this happen on such a perfect day?"
As I pulled into the parking lot at work, the news broke that the second tower had just been hit. When I walked into the office, my boss exclaimed, "Did you hear what happened? A plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers!"
"Another plane just hit the other one," I replied. I remember the shock on his face, likely mirroring my own.
"How is an accident like that possible?" he asked.
"It can't be an accident. It means we're at war." I answered.
"With who?" he asked.
"It doesn't really matter," I sighed. What an odd answer I gave to such a straightforward question! I've never forgotten what I said.
* * *
I remember everyone crowding into the cafeteria at work, watching the unfolding horror on the television set. Both towers were aflame. I went back to my office and refused to come out. I refused to watch the Towers fall. To this day, I have trouble watching the video.
* * *
Lunchtime came, but I had no appetite. I got in the car and drove around town for half an hour. I crossed the bridge into West Pittston and drove slowly past the National Guard Armory. By then, of course, the Pentagon had been attacked. It was clear something terrible was unfolding, and that we were at war.
I crossed back over the river and drove past Columbus Circle in Pittston. My eyes filled when I saw a pair of elderly veterans placing flags in front of the monument there. Hunched over, solemn and deliberate, they worked slowly at their task.
Columbus Circle-Pittston PA...
Driving home after work, thinking of the veterans again, I stopped to buy a flag. There were several other shoppers doing the same. There was none of the usual hustle-bustle you see in a department store. Everyone was quiet, considerate and polite to each other as we all in our own way struggled to come to grips with the day's events.
Once home, my son and I worked by porch light to hang the flag. People drove by slowly to watch us work.
Over the following days, I remember spending a lot of time outside in the yard, avoiding the TV and Internet and looking at the sky. Clear, beautiful blue September skies punctuated with the occasional cloud. Skies like those seen by countless generations of people for thousands of years. No crisscrossing latticework of contrails, no shiny specks hurtling high overhead. Just terrible and vast empty skies from horizon to horizon. I pray I never see them so empty ever again.
* * *