Note: I wrote this to commemorate 9-11 last year… I wanted to post something new but I thought that this was still appropriate.
I’m not proud of it, but I have to admit it. Yes, I know what day it is. I know what happened on this date eight years ago. I know what was happening at this very minute that I write this on that horrible, terrible, infamous day eight short years ago.
I remember it like I remember yesterday, probably even more clearly. I was on duty on the ambulance in the small town where I grew up. My grandmother called me and asked me “Do you have your television on?”.
I didn’t, I was sleeping. She woke me up when she called. My friend PJ and I had gone on duty at 5am and were catching a few Zzz’s before heading down to the station. It was just another day then, too.
“We’re under attack” She said. “They’ve hit the World Trade Towers in New York and it’s burning”
“We’re what?!” I asked her
“Someone’s attacking the United States, we’re at war. Turn on your TV!” She told me.
Now, my Grandmother was a young, spry 93 year old back then. At 101, she’s going strong. I’m not exaggerating. She retired at 92 and hasn’t slowed down at all. She’s amazing. She’s seen more than anyone I know, has lived through quite a bit of United States history, and has really experienced it. She’s not one to panic, and not one to exaggerate. When she said this, my blood ran cold.
Then I flipped on the TV.
I turned on to see the top of the first tower burning furiously. Some talking head was saying something about an airplane hitting it. I didn’t understand what I was seeing.
Then the second plane hit.
Grandma was right, we were under attack. Our way of life was under attack. Our right to exist as a nation was under attack. Our Mothers, Brothers, Sons, and Daughters were under attack by, as President Bush put it, a “Faceless Coward”.
Some kind of guttural noise came from me as I saw what happened next. You know what happened too, the first tower fell. Hundreds of people died. It was a terrible thing to watch on TV a thousand miles away… I can not even imagine what it was like to be there. I never want to experience it.
I don’t know how the conversation with my Grandmother ended… but I know that we went down to the ambulance base, fast. I felt like I was responding to something… I wasn’t of course, but at the time I was ready to run to Ground Zero as fast as I could and help somehow. I didn’t know if there was anything else going to happen. I knew that whomever was attacking us wasn’t going to attack anywhere in my jurisdiction, but I was thinking that since we had a Military base in the middle of a metro area 30min away and since Chicago was about 2 hours away that it was possible.
Silly, maybe… but it’s what I did as a young 20 year old. Probably what I’d still do today. Except for now, I’m more advanced my career and have a position where I can respond to things like that. People that know me first-hand know that I have a job that I work a few months per year. Some ask me why I still do it because it’s inconvenient as a family man, this is the reason why.
When we got down to the ambulance base… all we could do was turn on the TV and watch… Powerlessly… as our brothers and sisters suffered.
Then the second tower fell.
You know the events as well as I do. That day progressed in a haze of raw emotion, a feeling of uselessness, and sitting in front of the TV. At one point, we ran outside because we heard a loud plane flying over and panicked.
It was an airliner flanked by two military jets on each side. It flew right over our ambulance base. Standing there, small, and diminished by the events of the day, I saluted whomever it was up there… and prayed that they’d make the right decisions.
I did a lot of praying that day.
So I feel bad that this morning when I woke up, on duty, I was feeling that this too, was just another day. We cleaned the trucks and the quarters for shift change, and went to our morning shift-change crew meeting. Somebody mentioned that it was Sept 11th. I had remembered…
but I hadn’t remembered.
On my way home, I was listening to the radio like I always do. I usually have the radio on the pop station, because I like the morning show, or on country because it’s good music.
The DJ asked everyone for a moment of silence… and I was silent.
Then the audio played. It was sounds and voice recordings from radio traffic, 911 calls, and media sources from that day. It was powerful, raw emotional stuff… And it brought me right back to that day where I stood, small but ready, in my small town, a thousand miles away from the events where people I don’t know, and didn’t know, died as patriots for our great nation. My brothers and sisters, my countrymen. No… OUR brothers and sisters and OUR countrymen. Our martyrs. Our patriots. Our friends. Our neighbors. They suffered on that day at the hands of faceless cowards.
I cried. I pulled over and cried like a baby.
Barbarians! Cowards!! We will hunt you to the ends of the earth and cut you down for what you did to us!! Our unity knows no bounds!! Our strength as a nation knows no limits!! You will pay!!
Tragic… awful… pain… how horrid to die in such a manner. How horrid for the families of the lost. How heroic of the police officers, the firefighters, the medics… How courageous. How strong. We stand with you, here and now. Still. Never wavering in our support for you. Life and light triumphing over death and darkness.
September 11th has been decreed by congress to be a national day of service. It is now called “Patriots Day”. This move is one of the few things that this congress has done that I fully support. Today is not about me, it’s not about you. It’s about our nation, our unity, and our strength in service to all. Liberty and Justice for All too.
Remember. Participate in the ceremonies. If you’re town doesn’t have one because you’re in a small town, travel to go to one. If you can’t, and you’re a volunteer firefighter or medic, go to the station and polish up the trucks. Make them look nice. Bring your family down.
Teach your children what today means. Let them know that we will always stand strong against Evil… even when we have a black eye and we’re bleeding. Teach them that America is not Evil but that we stand against Evil in the world.
Today is not just another day… and I’m sorry I woke up that way.