Where were you?

A decade ago, I was working as a newspaper designer for a weekly paper in the Chicago suburbs. Ten years ago today, I awoke to the news something was amiss at the World Trade Center.

As I flipped between the Today Show and Good Morning America, none of the stations broke in to discuss the incident in depth. And while the crawl on the bottom mentioned something about a plane hitting one of the towers, I thought it was a weird fluke like the guy who crashed in to the Statue of Liberty just a few weeks before.

So I got up to take a shower and when I got out, I tuned in just in time to see the second tower get hit and I very clearly remember saying out loud “what did we do to you?!”

Before anyone had mentioned Bin Laden or Al Qaeda, I knew this was clearly retribution for our actions somewhere. But as the time passed, I would have no idea the enormity of that statement.

I listened to ABC News on the radio on my drive in, hearing the information about the Pentagon. I immediately panicked as I knew people close to me in DC. While I knew of some in NYC, they were distant acquaintances that I would have no way of getting ahold of them. But high school friends were in DC and that’s when the fear set in. I put in phone calls and emails, but communication was down which only intensified the panic.

At work, I was one of the first group to arrive. At the time, our newsroom did not have a television in it, and certainly not one with cable. We were a local weekly paper. We didn’t need to know about national news, right?

But someone had found a media cart, reminiscent of middle school movie days, and we sat around the snowy picture taking it all in. I remember catching eyes with a photographer and while neither of us spoke, we knew what each other was thinking and feeling the fear we both had.

We didn’t stay with the coverage long. Our journalistic instincts kicked in and we dove in to action. I laugh now at the ragamuffin team we had. With no real television coverage, we had radios going in different departments. It felt more like WWII than the new millennium. As we were a local paper, the writers were not used to writing on such a fast pace and one naive reporter asked “are we going to push back our deadline a day?”

I remember being on information overload. Like many, I couldn’t turn away from the news. But I was also in the business of reporting on it. So there were no other conversations that day. When we finally put the paper to bed, I remember coming home and wanting to hear only silence. I refused to put the radio or television on. I just wanted a break from it all. When I eventually did turn on the TV, every station had news coverage. Even MTV had CBS news coverage. The only thing that had not switched its format was a kids station that was showing cartoons. I enjoyed the reminder of innocence that was far from present that day.

In the weeks that followed, that silence I so longed for on that Tuesday would turn ominous as I was faced with the eerie silence of no planes in the air. I had lived in the flight path of Midway at the time. I had not realized up to that point how much noise those planes emitted. But when faced with the silence of an airline system that was brought down indefinitely, it was deafening.

I’m thankful to say that no one I know personally was injured in the attacks and I cannot fathom having lost someone as a result of them. The immediate impact on my life was that my birthday party, a mere 11 days later, was cancelled and our trip to Boston to see the Red Sox at Fenway Park was put on hold because everyone was grounded and all baseball games had been halted. But the long term impact of those days is hard to put in to words. We were all changed by them.

Ten years after the attacks, I no longer work in newspaper. Hell, I don’t even subscribe to a newspaper. And this summer I got rid of cable. So there’s no potential for me to be inundated with the terrifying images again. I’ve read some coverage on the internet, but for the most part, I have no desire to relieve that day that haunts us all.

I think today I’ll once again avoid all news and watch some cartoons and long for a more innocent time.

For more information:

  • The Newseum in DC publishes the front pages of newspapers around the world. They’ve got an archived collection of papers from 9/12/2001. It’s fascinating to see how other papers covered the news.
  • Salon also presents why it’s critical that students be taught about 9/11. When I was in school, we rarely got past Vietnam so I’m curious to see how history classes today are handling things.
  • Mental Floss rounds up how other countries reacted to the attacks.  Truthfully, reading this made me cry. As Americans, we can sometimes be ignorant to the blights of people in other countries. To see the international world react with such compassion, it made me tear up.
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About indie librarian

a recently MLS librarian's observations
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