New York City, 8:46 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001:
American Airlines Flight 11 came barreling into the World Trade Center’s North tower, destroying it like a freight train does a pickup truck stalled on its tracks. The truck is shredded to scrap and the driver is either left staring in terror and disbelief, or he’s shredded himself, lying there in the tragedy. He will soon be little more than a passing thought, an idea in a heart, a wrenching, aching pit in a stomach or a few wilted flowers and newspaper clippings pressed firm in a dusty bible.
But that day in September 2011 was different.
The man in the truck had a chance. Fate could have let him out of the truck in time to live. And the train’s engineer had a chance not to live the rest of his changed life with the reality of what he’d done. Fate could have let him see the truck in time to stop.
The passengers on those flights that fell that September day and the people in those buildings who perished, however, did not have a chance.
The almost 3,000 victims of 9-11 had no chance.
The pilots flying their planes and crashing into the World Trade Center didn’t want to stop in time. They didn’t care about living with the reality of what they’d done. They wanted the kill, they wanted to die, and they wanted to have that glorious moment before their maker and know they’d done what they thought was right.
We will never know exactly what sort of scene played out on those planes and in those buildings. Most of the men, women and children with those stories died alongside the pilots who took their lives. What we will never forget is what happened to our generation that day.
I, like most of us, was at school. I was asleep at my desk when the girl sitting next to me nudged me awake and said, “a plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
I raised my head, said “What’s the World Trade Center?” and went back to sleep.
But, in the next two hours, it became harder and harder to sleep.
9:03 a.m. – Crash two. Chatter, chatter, chatter in the class. A television is brought in.
9:37 a.m. – Crash three. Chatter, open, shocked mouths, and the first tears.
9:59 a.m. – The South tower falls. Shock. A teacher on the other side of the school has a son that works in one of the towers and can’t reach him. She’s inconsolable. Tears, anger, panic, more shock.
10:03 a.m. – Crash four in a field outside Pittsburgh, Pa. I am awake. I get the sense that we all are.
But I wasn’t totally awake yet. In the following days, months and years, I slowly became more and more aware of what turmoil our world has been through in the past and sadly the turmoil that will likely plague our future.
I’ve learned a lot since I was that sleeping 14-year-old fool and I feel as though I understand at least a few things about the world we live in: the cruelty, hate, the love, and the beauty.
I’ve learned a lot.
But, I truly believe that if I live to be 100 years old, or if I live to be as old as the monstrous redwoods in California, or even if I live to be as old as the rocky, grainy dirt under my feet, I will never understand the kind of hate and cruelty that drove those callous, misguided 19 hijackers to kill that day.