[Note: This post originally ran on September 11, 2003 at Michele Catalano’s Voices. The Voices project ended last year, but the hundreds of individual rememberances remain.]
[This year I’m republishing it for In The Bullpen’s Where Were You? collection]
I’ve been trying to collect my recollections of September 11, 2001, and I keep coming back to one thought; how to explain “before.”
Some background is probably in order. September 11, 2001 started for me pretty much the same as the previous 10 days had, with a night shift of infant care. My twin boys were newly born over the Labor Day weekend and our house resembled the aftermath of a hurricane in Grand Central Station. Everything necessary to feed and care for twins was there, it just wasn’t always visible.
In the course of a few days we had developed a shift routine where I stayed up until the 2-3 AM feeding and slept until 9AM, and my went to bed after the 9-10PM feeding and went back on duty with the 6AM feeding.
September 11th, I awoke groggily from 5-ish hours of sleep at some point in the morning to get food or tend to a baby who was crying, I don’t remember which. My wife was asleep, perhaps catnapping between feedings and pumping sessions. Sleep was the premium commodity in our house, and with her parents visiting for a few days I recall both of us getting recharged with daytime sleep as often as possible.
I came down stairs and was greeted by my mother-in-law who directed me to the TV in hushed tones. I saw the pictures of the first plane impact in one of the World Trade Center towers and at some point heard about the Pentagon crash as well. At the time, although I was on leave due to the birth of my boys, I was a frequent flier as my consulting work was nationwide in scope. I was in the Gold and Platinum categories on more than one major airline including United. Dulles Airport is less that 10 miles from my house and it was my lifeline to work. Needless to say the fact that a plane outbound from Dulles had been hijacked and flown into the Pentagon was extremely distressing in an intensely personal way.
I remember thinking as the day wore on that my family and my country had been declared as participants in a new kind of war. This was not a war like those that our parents and their parents knew. It was to be a war against an enemy that was not a nation-state, but an idea. Deep in my gut I knew that we would rise to the task; honor our dead; and respond to the threat to our nation. What I didn’t know is how I would ever be able to explain life on September 10, 2001 to two little men who had never experienced it.
As a new father I was keenly aware of the world my children were born into, and had great plans to share the wonders of this new world to my offspring. There would be first baseball games, little league, family vacations to kid friendly locales, all carefully crafted to introduce two young minds to the vibrant fabric of America. All I could think about in the aftermath of the horrifying tragedy is that the world I wanted to share with my boys had been destroyed. How would I explain a time when terror alerts and suicide bombers were not topics discussed over dinner or in elementary school?
The ying and yang of life and death played out for me in a 24 hour Kinko’s just days later. As I waited for an employee to put the finishing touches on a stack of birth announcements that included a picture from September 8, 2001 of my boys, a remarkably composed widow of a Pentagon employee placed her order for an announcement that she never planned for. With no words we spoke; she drank of my joy and I of her pain. We closed the unspoken conversation with a look that spoke the same line in each of our head, “Our world will never be the same as it was, ‘before'”