Sunday, September 11, 2011

How Time Passes: A Decade After The 9/11 Tragedy

September 11th of the year 2001 started as an absolutely beautiful day in Baltimore, with just a few clouds dotting the blue late summer sky. Little did any of us know, except those responsible, what was on the horizon that fateful morning. That Tuesday, as I prepared to head off to work at Comcast, and after sending my stepson off to Deep Creek Elementary, my friend Will came over, no more than a few minutes from the first plane striking that initial tower. Within moments, before we could leave out the door, my household looked on in disbelief. Even though that first strike was horrifying, it didn't quite register at that moment that this was the work of terrorists. If memory serves me correct, that second plane struck the other building just before I left my Essex abode and headed for White Marsh. That is when the severity of the situation started to register with me. I made sure everything was fine at home with my then-fiancee Angelisa, and departed for Comcast, oblivious to the fact that as "essential personnel", we would not be able to leave the premises for a multitude of hours once there. On the highway, my friend Will and I listened to the local Baltimore and DC radio stations: 92Q, 93.9 WKYS, 95.5 WPGC. That was the point when "terror" started to slowly but surely seep into everyone's psyche. You could here the radio personalities try to make sense of it all. When it was announced that the Pentagon was a target, proverbial hell broke loose. WE WERE UNDER ATTACK! Make no bones about it, something that I never experienced was happening before our eyes and ears.

Once I arrived at Comcast, I headed right to our Call Center to view the many monitors that were located there. You could see news cameras panning left and right on the televisions, trying to make sense of what was happening, and pondering what was next. We felt that we were all targets at that point. Baltimore is only 39 miles away from Washington, so we could be deemed as vulnerable at that moment in time that seemed to move at a rapid pace and move in slow motion all at the same time. Schools and businesses were closing, so I contacted my ex-wife to find out about my two elementary school children, Adrienne and AJ, that were about 25 miles on the other side of town in Randallstown. At first, no answer. I called again, no answer. Eventually, I did get in contact with her, but the conversation incensed me more than anything, because she did not feel that the issue at hand was an important or pressing one. To this day, the one aspect that sticks with me like gum to the underside of a table is her not going to pick the children up at school, which was located about 500 feet across the road. The school wouldn't release the children to walk across the street alone, so they stayed at school during the entire ordeal. I've made peace with what occurred, but I still have that sordid episode burned into my own pysche, ready to take it to the grave with me when it is time for me to take my last breathe. I felt powerless, because I was in a precarious position. I wanted my fiancee to go pick them up at any cost possible after she picked up the youngest out of our collective. Needless to say, that did not occur either.

As this dark and sordid episode unfolded, rumors of more and more plane attacks were surfacing. With family in the DC and New York/New Jersey area, I also had concern about their well-being. Unfortunately, phone lines, both landline and cellular, were overwhelmed, as everyone was checking on family and friends, alerting others about possible attacks, whatever may have been in the hearts and on the minds at the time. Working was a very difficult task that day, because minds were not necessarily on inbound calls for troubleshooting cable or internet issues. Our collective minds in the Call Center were on what transpired, what was to transpire, and what to do. Of course prayer was the name of the game during this emotional rollercoaster. Prayer shouldn't be used as a tool ONLY when someone is going through a traumatic ordeal, but September 11th was the perfect opportunity to open up dialogue with God. One thing I can say about the unfolding saga was the comraderie we exhibited. We were not necessarily black or white, Hispanic or Asian. We were linked by a common cause, survival. If any one aspect can be taken from this horrific event, it was that Queen Latifah lament: U-N-I-T-Y.

After the last plane "mysteriously" crashed into that field in Pennsylvania, we still didn't know what was on the horizon. Truth be told, George W. Bush was slow to react, and the media, at least at first, made note of that, showing someone briefing him on the events, while Bush was in the middle of an elementary school classroom, reading to the impressionable youth. I don't know if he was as shocked as we were, or if it didn't quite register with him either. Eventually, he did leave that classroom. I don't want to appear as psuedo-political or conspiracy theorist, but my inner voice was telling me something was amiss with the whole picture, similar to when the same George W. Bush flew OVER New Orleans days after the tragedy that was Katrina. I will reserve that topic for a later time.

As the day lingered, and work dragged at a snail's pace, I had time to contemplate. I had time to reflect. I had the opportunity to ponder so many different things. Answering the inbound calls that were pouring in that day just didn't seem like the best way for me to be spending my time and life. I know that my responsibility was to assist our Comcast customers with whatever their needs were, but my personal needs needed attention. My personal needs were for my family and friends to be safe, protected, and reassured. I didn't necessarily feel that was the case at all, because, just like the rest of us, we were very unsure what would happen next. I spent the rest of my day and evening at work, which seems to be a recurring theme even to this day. I say this to say that we have to take stock in what is really, REALLY important, each and every one of us, on all levels. Eventually, I found that my aloof, yet terrified, children that were so near, yet so far away, were safe and sound at their mother's home. Dorian and Angelisa were also fine at home, watching hour after hour of the day's events on Comcast Digital, being inundated with images thatt could not be forgotten.

I know there are similar stories, different stories, tragic stories, all tied into 9/11 from each and every one of us. Surreal is the best word I can use to describe September 11, 2001. How could one of the most beautiful days turn into the ugliest of nights? I say this because once the sun set, the Hype Williams video that we experienced, where images were shot frame by frame, moving ever so slowly, making the scene that much more dramatic, could never be erased. We all had 9/11 stories as soon as that September 11th evening, when that vast majority of us were reunited with family members and friends. It made family become an even more important aspect of everyday living. I am grateful for my family and friends. I am blessed to not have anyone injured or killed in my immediate or secondary circle, even though there may be someone, by six degrees of separation, that I may have come into contact with in the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, Pennsylvania, or New York City. My in-laws (I still consider the Adams' family even though I am no longer married to their daughter) worked for the DC and Federal Government, so of course there was concern there. My best friend Ed was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. There was concern from that vantage point as well because the fighter jets that converged on New York City immediately after the tragic events unfolded were deployed from Langley. My aunt Peggy worked directly across the East River from Manhattan in Newark, so she saw the burning towers of the World Trade Center, and noted to me that she saw the collapse and subsequent plume of dark smoke and debris blanket the region.

I could go on and on, but I won't at this moment, because right now, ten years later, we have to pay homage to the brave and unaware. The brave for risking life and limb to help those in need. The unaware that did not know that September 11th would be their last day on this very planet. We should take note, because there is no promise for any of us to see the very next day. Today is a commemoration of the nation's most heinous and tragic day, in my opinion, just because of the sheer scope and resulting effect it had on each and every one of us. A moment of solace is definitely warranted. We should reflect on what that day's events did to change your viewpoint on humanity. Did it bring you closer to your brother and sister, your mother and father, your children, your family, your church community, your co-workers? Conversely, did September 11, 2001 sour you on the whole concept of brotherhood, love, family, community, and other ties that bind? I hope that the images of those at Ground Zero, covered in ash, trying to find safety in numbers, still resonates. Those people, covered from head to toe, looked alike, no matter race, creed, color, or religious background. I hope that we as a people can move forward, and reflect properly, in your own manner, on the events that transpired, and use that as a catalyst to be a better person.

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