This is a sad day for those of us who were in New York, Washington, D.C., or rural Pennsylvania when the planes hit seven years ago. What I remember most clearly is the confusion of it: I was walking home from the gym when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and so I had no idea that anything had happened until my friend K called from work.
Diamond, something big has happened, she said tightly. We don’t know what exactly, but a plane has hit the World Trade Center.
That’s awful, I said sympathetically, while thinking to myself: oh, K is always a bit dramatic. I’m so sorry for the people in the plane, and those who witnessed it – but I’m sure that the building will be fine.
No, I remember her saying to me. You don’t understand – our cell phones aren’t working and we can’t get any of the news sites to open.
At the time, I had just moved into a new apartment with a roommate. We had no television and no radio, and only a dial-up internet connection. When K hung up, I tried to go online, but it took ages to connect. And she was right: I couldn’t get any US news website to load.
My mobile phone wasn’t working well either, but I was finally able to reach my father, who had been on his way to vote in their town primary election when he realized that what he was hearing on the radio was not a replay of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks but breaking news.
Later I learned that my sister, who lived in Washington, had also been able to get through to my father. She had been at the doctor’s office when the plane hit the Pentagon, and didn’t know whether she should continue to work or return home.
It was still early enough that people wondered whether more planes might still be in the air and heading towards unknown targets, so my father cautioned her: try to avoid walking near any building that looks like it might be a target.
My sister looked around and saw government buildings, IMF buildings, embassies and other political headquarters.
But Dad, she said, this is D.C.. Every building here could be a target.
Three years ago CNN replayed its full coverage of the day on its website, and I watched it from 8:30 am, curious to see what I had missed by being away from the television that day. What I realized was that there was as much confusion on the television as I had experienced on the ground. The news didn’t break immediately, and when it did, the newscasters were unsure how serious – or how big a story – it would be.
The coverage evolved gradually from breaking news into a morning newscast to full live coverage of a story that superceded all others – but even then, confusion reigned. The screen clearly showed the second plane hitting the second tower, but the commentators missed it entirely – and when they were informed of eyewitness accounts reporting the second hit, they initially dismissed them. None of us could believe what happened at first, I suppose – which one could call a gut response or a “failure of imagination”.
Just like 2001, its a beautiful sunny day today, although several degrees cooler than it was then, and the clouds are a bit thicker in the sky. I’m seeing my city with two sets of eyes today, both a bit misty – and its hard to reconcile the seven years that separate them.