Two years ago something horrifying happened. Someone I knew was murdered when the plane he was in was deliberately slammed into the Pentagon. The plane flew over my house, and crashed about a mile away. I was in the basement of a 4H club just outside DC in suburban Maryland at a staff retreat; we hadn’t even started the day’s session when it began. We watched on a big TV in the activity room, surrounded by pool tables and games. There were worries about what was happening outside, rumors even among our small group – a bomb at the State Department? The USA Today towers burning? Who has a cell phone that works?
Me and some of my co-workers piled into my car to make our way home – we all just wanted to be at home – and it took 3 hours to make the 45 minute trip. At one point, I was amazed at how courteous the other drivers were, waiting patiently… then one guy cut in front and the spell was broken.
The smoke was hanging over my neighborhood; it had risen over the Arlington Ridge between my house and the Pentagon. I stood outside the front door and watched it rising over the hill. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned it was the end of Joe’s life.
My September 11 story is small and quiet. I wasn’t hurt physically, Joe was an acquaintance, not a close, dear friend, and it doesn’t compare to the experiences of those in the Pentagon; those in Manhattan or Pennsylvania. Yet, it was an intensely personal experience and I feel as if I will have this in my head for the rest of my life. It was so unusual and beyond my experience; and it was followed by even more scary new things – a government suddenly turning against it’s founding principles (and now they want PATRIOT II?!), missile launchers on street corners, military jets flying low over my home at all hours. Anyone who looks around them and insists that we can’t let the terrorists win should get a clue – they already have. We may not show it, but we’re still scared.[Postscript: I was just looking at a Quicktime VR of the Pentagon memorial, where Joe’s name appears with the other lost and missing from that day. And my eye wandered across my desk to a piece of paper tacked up behind it – a print out of an e-mail from Joe that’s been tacked there for two years. “Versatile stress quotes for all occasions.” My favorite: #14: How many times do I have to flush before you go away?”
This VR of the memorial shows a panel inscribed with two excerpts from speeches given by President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. Bush’s excerpt is, as always, rather amateurish and hamfisted, much like the President himself. But Rumsfeld’s is quite good – really well written. Dubya’s writers could learn a few things from Rummy’s writers.]