When I left my office the evening of September 10, 2001, I had no idea it would be my last day working on the 39th floor of Two World Trade Center. No one who worked in those buildings knew that. Now, of course we all know that a group of terrorists, affiliated with Al Qaeda and given the go ahead by Osama Bin Laden himself, were busy preparing an attack for the next morning that would be so heinous, it's still incomprehensible, nearly 10 years later.
As it has been widely reported, the morning of September 11, 2001 was a beautiful morning in New York. When I got off the subway on my way to work that day, I remember hearing an older (seemingly deranged) man muttering "Don't go out there. It's insane." I didn't give him a second thought at the time and continued on my way. As I exited the subway station, I immediately noticed a lot of paper flying through the air. As I was trying to figure out why there was a ticker-tape parade that day, I started to notice it wasn't little confetti-like bits of paper but full sheets of paper, even full rolls of toilet paper, floating through the sky. I noticed another guy, bending down and picking a watch up off the sidewalk. These things were odd but not particularly alarming. Then I looked up and noticed the smoke. I could tell it was coming from the general direction of the towers but didn't know exactly where. My first thought was "Ooh, maybe they'll close the office because of the fire and I'll get a free vacation day." Clearly, I had no idea what was unfolding around me.
As I got closer, I could tell the smoke was coming from One World Trade Center (now called the North Tower. In the nearly two years I worked in the building, I don't remember anyone ever calling them the North and South towers - it was always One World Trade and Two World Trade - 1WTC, 2WTC, if you were sending an email). I joined a group of hundreds of people on a plaza about a block from my building and we watched as the first building burned. No one there had any concept of the significance or devastation of what was happening so close by. People made comments about how building maintenance must be pissed that the internal fire sprinklers weren't working. A couple of people said they'd heard that a commuter plane had hit the building but that was generally dismissed.
Then, as we all stared in the sky watching the fire, we saw and heard a huge plane approach and fly directly into Two World Trade Center. Everyone there immediately sensed the deliberateness of it and knew it was the act of terrorists. People turned and ran east. I followed them. This happened to be in the direction of my subway stop and I just ran and got on the subway, without really thinking too much. As I was running to the subway, I started yelling at people getting off the trains to not go out there. They ignored me as I had ignored the old guy before me.
The subway car I got on was relatively empty. Only one other gal and I had been out there and seen the devastation. We were shaken and incoherently trying to tell people what was going on. I remember saying that terrorists had hijacked an empty plane and flown it into the building. Somehow, I had subconsciously dismissed the idea that there could have been people on those planes. Without thinking it through, my mind had simply rejected the possibility that things could have been any worse than what I had just witnessed. Of course they were worse. Much worse.
I got off the subway in Brooklyn and immediately called my mom, at home in Seattle. I knew she'd be watching the TODAY Show and would be seeing the coverage and freaking out. When I'd first moved to New York and gotten a job in the World Trade Center, my mom wasn't too happy and reminded me that it had been bombed in the '90s. I dismissed her concerns, telling her how tight security was and explaining about the key cards needed to merely ride the elevators. I told her it was probably the safest building in the city. Of course, no one could have anticipated that key cards would be little match for a jumbo jet.
Luckily, on the morning of September 11, my cell phone was both miraculously charged and receiving service. I got a hold of her less than 20 minutes after my building had been hit. Cell service and long-distance service would both be spotty in the city for a long time afterwards. In the weeks and months following 9/11, we all began to learn more about Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. In New York, we also contended with endless rumors of fresh attacks.
In the nearly 10 years since that day, a lot has changed - both for me and for our country. My New York boyfriend and I broke up and I moved home to Seattle six months after 9/11. I'd had a great time in the city but that event changed things for me. I felt I needed to be home, closer to my family. I got a new job and met my now-husband. We've since traded Seattle for the 'burbs and had kids.
Our country has changed too. Long gone is the feeling of solidarity that we had after that fateful day. We've been engulfed in the "war on terror" in two separate arenas for so long now, that we often forget these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are even going on. After years of color-coded terror alert levels and the hunt for Bin Laden, he too had largely faded from the spotlight. Until today.
When I woke up and turned on the TODAY Show this morning (like mother, like daughter there) and saw that he'd been killed, I felt relief. Then, I heard about Americans celebrating in the streets and I got upset and worried. Yes, he was an evil man, the sort of man who deserves to have his grave danced upon, but for our country and our safety, I hate that images of us celebrating his death are being broadcast around the world. Not because he doesn't deserve it but because I fear retribution.
Today, there have been a lot of comparisons between the deaths of Hitler and Bin Laden. The difference is that Hitler was an authoritarian leader of a recognized nation-state. A nation that was already crumbling after years of war. With Hitler's death, Germany had no one to urge them on in the war - it was over. Bin Laden on the other hand, was the leader of a movement but he was more of a figurehead really. He was someone fundamentalists could rally behind. While he provided his followers a blueprint, he, by no means, ran a dictatorship. With his death, terrorism and the threat of it, don't end. I'm glad that my children will grow up in a world where he's only a mention in their history books and not a boogeyman that still exists. However, even with him gone, the threat of terrorism remains. Our children are still being raised in a world where the incomprehensible is a possibility.
This war's not over, which is why I don't want to see us celebrate too much today. When I heard that people in the Middle East were celebrating 9/11 it made me incredibly angry, as it did almost every other American. The feeling was that you don't celebrate death, especially not the death of innocent civilians. Let's practice what we preached almost 10 years ago and keep the hoopla down. Let's express relief that he's gone and hope that this will somehow be something of a turning point in ending terrorist acts but let's not celebrate and fuel the fire. Let's set a good example for our kids and show them that you don't celebrate the death of anyone, even a monster. Let's also do what we can to keep them safe by not egging on extremists. Bin Laden's done enough damage already, let's not give him the power of martyrdom in death.