Where were you twenty years ago?

September 11th “Tribute in Light” beacons shine up from lower Manhattan. New York City, NY/USA. September, 2015.

 

I wrote this in 2011, ten years after 9/11.  The America of 2021 is indeed a product of those attacks and the actions taken over the next few years.  Our bluster and sense of invincibility led us to act on our own when others balked at first and then were alienated by our administration’s statements like “You’re either with us or against us.”  Yes, 9/11 changed us as a nation.

For you real old-timers, much like the assassination of President Kennedy and the attack on Pearl Harbor, 9-11 brings back vivid memories within the context of our own lives.  A conversation about that fateful day will inevitably involve what you were doing when it happened.  At the time, I was living in a sleepy little New Hampshire town at the far northwestern edge of commuting distance from Boston.  The home I had on the Piscataquag River also served as my golf course architecture office.  On that morning, I had just left for Vermont and a Golf Course Superintendent’s event.  I regularly listened to New Hampshire Public Radio Station during those days (and I still do occasionally), but more to the point, shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 am EDT, NPR announced it as some kind of an accident.  Within minutes and shortly before the second plane hit (9:03 am EDT) they corrected themselves and told us it was an attack with a hi-jacked plane.

I immediately thought that I should return home.  At least one of the planes had originated in Boston.  My oldest daughter worked at the TJX Corporate Headquarters (Marshalls TJMaxx) just outside of Boston and I was concerned what the extent of the attack might be.  Later, I found out that my daughter could have been on the plane bound for Los Angeles with others from her company, but someone she had recently trained went instead.  After a discussion with my employee and spouse, I continued, but much of it was without much news as the I-89 corridor was somewhat remote and cell phone coverage even then was spotty at best.  When I arrived at the event, everyone was gathered around a large screen TV hoping for even the slightest tidbit of information to make sense of what had transpired.  I had not seen the impacts of the planes and I remember the terror I felt as I saw one of them hit the tower in a fiery crash.  By that time the first tower had fallen and that footage along with other horrifying videos were shown over and over.  How can such images not stay with you?

Our event proceeded although the schedule was somewhat altered.  Golf was a large part of the meeting that day, but as we gathered at every tee there was a conversation about hardly anything but the attack.  It was interesting because I don’t recall even a hint of partisan politics in the air.  I never felt uncomfortable with anything anyone had to say about what just happened.  I just remember a look of sadness and in some cases fear with the same tinged in conversation.  But there was something more about the atmosphere – was it just the fear and sadness – I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it occupied my thoughts from time to time that day.

Following the event, I was to proceed south down I-91 to Ridgebury, Connecticut for a pre-proposal meeting for the Town’s Municipal Golf Course.  Instead of driving as far as I could to make my morning drive smaller, I stopped in Springfield, Vermont.  I didn’t want to get too close to New York until I knew that the attacks were over.  After getting all the information I could that night, I awakened early the next morning to drive the remaining few hours or so to Ridgebury.

My meeting was early – probably around 9 am, so my drive down I-91 and then I-84 would not have ordinarily presented much traffic anyway.  That day, as was September 11, were those prototypical New England September mornings.  The sky was clear and dark blue and the air was clean and crisp as the cool overnight held against the morning sun.  There was some fog in Vermont and northern Massachusetts.  The traffic was even lighter than I could have imagined.  As I neared my exit on I-84 there were glimpses of a plume of smoke rising against the clear blue September sky.

I was early for my meeting and drove past the Ridgefield Golf Course entrance.  This is where my memory is fuzzy, but I remember being overwhelmed with the image some 50 miles to the southwest of a plume of smoke rising up to a temperature inversion where the smoke drifted horizontally, trailing off to the south on the northerly breeze.  Today, I can’t be certain that I saw that image from the ground somewhere in Ridgebury or if it was from some other high point along my route. However, for me, the image and my visit to Ridgebury are forever linked.

During my walk around their course with the Golf Committee, I had the same feeling that I had the previous day.  There was something different about the world.  Was it just my emotions?  As we toured the golf course, I became aware of the quiet sky.  Suddenly I realized – it was the fact there were no airplanes in the sky.  Everything had been grounded shortly after the attack. The sky was quiet.  It seemed appropriate.  It wasn’t in tribute to all those that had died, but it felt that way to me.

As we approached the tenth anniversary of that horrible day, there was much jibber-jabber on the  ‘net about the possibility of a national holiday.  That has all but disappeared as we observe the twentieth annual observance.  If we could have a day in true commemoration of those events in New York, Washington D.C., and in an isolated field in Pennsylvania, I would applaud it.  A day we could spend in peaceful respect with family or friends would be ideal.  A day when there was no commerce at all.  If I had my way, it would also include a day of a quiet sky.

If I live to see a fortieth anniversary of 9/11 I hope for an America that has found its way to a peaceful, prosperous existence in a world that can celebrate the ways we are alike and examine the ways we are different for perspective and learning.

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