[Note: This piece first appeared on Sept. 11, 2003.]
I’ve been trying to collect my recollections of September 11, 2001, and I keep coming back to one thought; how to explain “before”.
Some background is probably in order. September 11, 2001 started for me pretty much the same as the previous 10 days had, with a night shift of infant care. My twin boys were newly born over the Labor Day weekend and our house resembled the aftermath of a hurricane in Grand Central Station. Everything necessary to feed and care for twins was there, it just wasn’t always visible.
In the course of a few days we had developed a shift routine where I stayed up until the 2-3 AM feeding and slept until 9AM, and my went to bed after the 9-10PM feeding and went back on duty with the 6AM feeding.
September 11th, I awoke groggily from 5-ish hours of sleep at some point in the morning to get food or tend to a baby who was crying, I don’t remember which. My wife was asleep, perhaps catnapping between feedings and pumping sessions. Sleep was the premium commodity in our house, and with her parents visiting for a few days I recall both of us getting recharged with daytime sleep as often as possible.
I came down stairs and was greeted by my mother-in-law who directed me to the TV in hushed tones. I saw the pictures of the first plane impact in one of the World Trade Center towers and at some point heard about the Pentagon crash as well. At the time, although I was on leave due to the birth of my boys, I was a frequent flier as my consulting work was nationwide in scope. I was in the Gold and Platinum categories on more than one major airline including United. Dulles Airport is less that 10 miles from my house and it was my lifeline to work. Needless to say the fact that a plane outbound from Dulles had been hijacked and flown into the Pentagon was extremely distressing in an intensely personal way.
I remember thinking as the day wore on and I dismissed suggestions that we abandon our house and go the Eastern shore of Maryland with our in-laws that my livelihood and my country had been declared as participants in a new kind of war. This was not a war like those that our parents and their parents knew, it was to be against an enemy that was not a nation state, but an idea. Deep in my gut I knew that we would rise to the task, honor our dead, and respond to the threat to our nation. What I didn’t know is how I could ever explain life on September 10, 2001 to people who had never experienced it, specifically my boys.
As a new father I was keenly aware of the world my children were born into, and had great plans to share the wonders of this new world to my offspring. There would be first baseball games, little league, family vacations to kid friendly locales, all carefully crafted to introduce two young minds to the vibrant fabric of America. All I could think about in the aftermath of the horrifying tragedy is that the world I wanted to share with my boys had been destroyed. How would I explain a time when terror alerts and suicide bombers were not topics discussed over dinner or in elementary school?
All of this played out for me in a very personal way just days later at a 24 hour Kinkos. As I waited for an employee to put the finishing touches on a stack of birth announcements that included a picture of the twins taken on September 8, 2001, a remarkably composed widow of a Pentagon employee placed her order for an announcement that I’m sure she wasn’t prepared to make. With no words we spoke; she acknowledged our new bundles of joy, and I acknowledged her grief We closed our unspoken conversation with the same line, “Our world will never be the same as it was… before”