I slept. The world changed all around me, and I slept.
My wife woke me up in a shaking, excited voice, “Jon, get up! Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center!” I remember thinking that she must have been watching a movie of some sort, and I dozed off again. A few minutes later, I got up, put on some sweats and a flannel shirt, and went downstairs to see what she was talking about.Rhonda’s eyes were wet and red with shock. She sat on the edge of our recliner,her knees together, her elbows on her knees, and her chin in her hands. She was watching television, and again I thought that she was watching a movie. Attack on America, the headline said in bright red letters at the bottom of the screen. We were watching CNN.
Suddenly feeling the need not to stand, I took a seat on our couch. The picture on our screen showed the World Trade Centers moldering, smoking, and burning.The reporter spoke of chaos, of passenger airplanes crashing into the Pentagon and into both towers of the World Trade Center. As we watched, the structural integrity of the first tower failed, and the tower collapsed. Rhonda began to cry. I looked at the screen in disbelief. For some reason, I could not get the idea out of my head that we were watching a movie. I had the sensation that we were being fooled, like the Orson Welles 1938 radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” I knew, however, that this was not “War of the Worlds”; this was more like Pearl Harbor, this was War.
Not long after the first tower fell, the second collapsed in on itself. During the second tower collapse, America lost many of its bravest men and women; the firefighters and policemen we now herald as fallen heroes. I walked into the dining room to use the phone. I called into work to make sure that the watch was paying attention to the message traffic. Working in military communications, I knew that they would have a lot of correspondence to deal with. My overly excitable Chief answered the phone. I asked to talk to someone on watch, since I was obviously not going to get any answers out of him; he sounded as if he were going to have a heart attack.
“Well, we’re pretty busy, is this really important?’ He asked.
“I just wanna make sure that the watch is keeping a close eye” I responded.
“Oh, yea, we’re really jumpin’ here, everybody’s really busy, we got flash traffic coming all over the place!”
I found out later that he was the only one running around.
“Ok, thanks Chief.”
I got off the phone and returned to the living room.My wife was in tears, horrified and amazed that such a thing could happen. I sat back down on the couch and began to contemplate my own feelings. At first it seemed that I felt nothing. I remember wondering if I were so desensitized to violence that I was incapable of feeling anything. As I watched the firemen, policemen, and volunteers sift through the rubble, a desire came over me, a desire to help. I wanted to do something! I wanted to be in New York or Washington D.C. I wanted to help, to put hand to brick and begin the immediate repair of what the evil men had destroyed. I wanted to be surrounded by the smoke, ash, and debris. I wanted to put goggles over my eyes and a handkerchief over my mouth and make my way though the rubble the fallen towers had left. I wanted to find survivors. I wanted to hear the cries of victims, to smell the burning of the buildings to feel the dust collect on my clothes as I worked day and night to find survivors.
I could do none of those things. I was in my living room, watching television. We watched the news for the rest of the day, and when night came, I slept.