Dies irae! Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla.
Teste David cum Sybilla.
The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the sibyl!
|The shadow of a bugler playing "Taps" at Ground Zero.|
I don't suppose anybody who is old enough to remember 9/11 will ever forget where they were and what they were doing on that awful day. Unimaginable things, about which we had no idea, were going on while we went about our ordinary lives.
Then, as today, on the 11th anniversary, I was a deputy public defender, though in a different shop. Then, as today, I had a day of court ahead of me. Then, as today, I rolled out of bed at the last possible minute I could get away with. I was in the Pacific time zone then, so by the time my feet hit the floor, the planes had all crashed, the fires were raging, and the nation was reeling.
While I slept, just one hour away from the alarm going off, the drama began to unfold on United Flight 93, whose passengers were already aware that passenger airliners were being used as missiles. In New York, firefighters, police, port authority officers and other first responders were rushing into the tottering Twin Towers to try to save trapped civilians. Many who had no hope of rescue, and perhaps were driven out of their minds by the intense heat, were leaping to their deaths. I turned over in bed.
Just before my alarm went off, the doomed, heroic passengers of Flight 93 were fighting to take back the aircraft. In New York, the South Tower of the World Trade Center was collapsing in a cloud of dust and debris that swept through the streets like a tidal wave. Just after the alarm went off, while I entertained the temptation to hit the snooze button, Flight 93 was crashing near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, prevented by the passengers from taking out the Capitol or the White House as planned. About the time I was fixing my hair, the North Tower collapsed.
None of this drama penetrated my daily routine. I got into my car and left for work, turning on a radio station that specialized in '80s music. While I headed down the main drag through town toward the office, listening to the crappy tunes that were the soundtrack of my high school career, dazed people covered in soot and ash and dust were picking their way away from the wreckage in Washington and New York, while fires raged and rescuers searched for survivors. I was oblivious to these cataclysmic events until, just as I was pulling into the parking lot, the announcer on the radio said something to the effect that they would do their best to continue with their eight-song-'80s marathon, but they were just as shaken up as they were sure the rest of us were at what just happened. Not being a morning person, I thought this odd, but didn't think to turn on a news station. I went into the office through a back door and found a bunch of people huddled around my secretary's desk, listening to the radio.
"What happened?" I said.
"The World Trade Center is gone," she replied.
"The World Trade Center is gone."
Immediately in my mind arose the memory of the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, and I do not now recall whether I spoke aloud the first thought that came into my head: "So they finished the job." There was all sorts of speculation that day around the courthouse about who had been responsible for the attacks -- the Oklahoma City bombing and its domestic pedigree were still fresh in the mind, even after six years -- but that first thought turned out to be right.
Of course, most of us had court, and court must go on, national calamity or no, so there was no question of huddling around radios or televisions to follow the news all day. But in between hearings and other business, the attacks were pretty much the only subject of conversation. It was said that 50,000 people worked in the Twin Towers; were all 50,000 dead? So few people were rescued alive from the wreckage. And of course there were rumors of still more hijacked planes in the air, aimed for any number of targets of national importance. When would it be over?
September 11, 2001 was my last day wrapped in my cocoon of workaday obliviousness. That was the day I knew the enemy was on my turf, ready to strike me just for going about my everyday business. The homeland had escaped two world wars with barely a scratch; but now, people with no compunction about murdering innocent civilians by the thousand were over here, taking flying lessons. I myself had just been in Tampa, Florida two weeks earlier, where these maggots apparently had some ties. The time for feeling secure and complacent was over -- for all of us.
Or so it seemed then. The attacks galvanized us, but the galvanization didn't take; we soon got back to our stupid squabbles and divisions. Pretty soon, we were lulled again, unduly comforted by the fact that no major terrorist attacks have stricken us since that awful, lovely September morning 11 years ago. So deep are we in the stupor of complacency that we don't even miss the freedom we have surrendered for the sake of "safety," or think twice about the indignities to which we submit at airports, where rubber-gloved gorillas paw through our luggage and uniformed lechers leer at us through the naked scanners. We have emasculated our military and all but opened our borders. We didn't even raise an eyebrow three years ago, when a jihadist disguised as an Army major opened fire at Fort Hood, in a place he knew the soldiers would be disarmed, shouting "Allahu akbar!" Except for the men and women in uniform who volunteer to place themselves in harm's way to protect us, we just go on doing exactly as we please, when we please, how we please, because we please, right or wrong.
More people died in 9/11 than in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor sixty years earlier. Yet 9/11 was just a shot across our bow. We didn't pay attention. We just cruise cluelessly toward -- what? Something too awful to contemplate.