Thursday, September 01, 2005

September 11th 2001: A Personal Story.

Outside of my immediate family and closest friends who experienced this with me as it happened, I have not told this to anyone in the 4 years since 9/11. As some of you may know, I live in northern Virginia, just 20 minutes south of the Pentagon. At the time I worked as a cab driver. I lived in a two bedroom apartment with my brother Aaron, who delivered newspapers for a living, and my girlfriend OJ, who commutes to Washington, D.C. everyday for work. Every morning she would commute to the Pentagon metro station, and ride to work from there. The following is the morning of 9/11 as the events unwrapped before me.

2:00 a.m.
My friend Brent came over to watch some movies and hang out. We would frequently have long political conversations that often went on into the wee hours of the morning. I remember much of the news from September 10th, and we were both discussing it. A congressional staffer was missing, and presumed dead amid rumors of this congressman’s affair with her. Bush was heavily promoting his plan to build a missile defense system that could dramatically raise military spending. The Chinese weren’t very happy with this, as they saw it as a sign of aggression.

5:00 a.m.
Brent was getting tired and decided to go home. Before he left I remember telling him that considering the history of US foreign policy we’re damn lucky that Oklahoma City has only happened once. He agreed, finished his cig and drove home. Shortly thereafter I went to bed as my girlfriend was getting up to get ready for work. I kissed her goodbye and went to sleep.

9:00 a.m.
My brother had come home from his paper route, and was counting his returns and his money. As he always did he would listen to Howard Stern and Don & Mike on the radio. He burst into my room shouting and shaking me, saying “Get up! We’re under attack! We have to go pick up OJ!” Still half asleep, I figured this was one of Aaron’s very dumb and obnoxious jokes. He went out of the room, and I could barely hear the radio coming from outside the door. Again he came in saying, “Get up! We’re under attack! I’m not fooling around!”

I stumbled out of bed and put on my clothes, listening to his radio. I couldn’t put anything together in my head yet, but it sounded like something severely wrong was going on. I still wasn’t sure if this wasn’t one of his very bad jokes. We got into his van and headed off to the Springfield metro station. Listening to Don & Mike on the radio, I heard them say “you’re not going to get a comedy show today. We’re under attack. Two planes have collided into the World Trade Center and another plane has collided into the Pentagon.” I put my face into my hands, thinking ‘oh my God. 10,000 Americans could now be dead.’ I wept.

Aaron told me that OJ had managed to call us, saying she was going directly to the Springfield metro station. I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, and made him keep repeating word for word what she had said. She was lucky to get through at all. With everyone suddenly calling everyone, the entire phone system in the entire region went down. Using the telephone simply was not an option. The media had severe problems with that as well, and just ran with stories if it came through to them. Don & Mike reported that in addition to the Pentagon and WTC attacks, The White House had been attacked, several car bombs went off in front of the State Department, and there was still another plane in the sky headed right for the Capital Building.

We got to the Springfield metro station to see that beyond the Springfield exit, Interstate 95, that normally carries millions of cars over it’s 8 lanes, was closed off by Virginia State police. No one was allowed to enter Washington. As we waited for the metro train to stop I struck up a conversation with a middle aged woman, waiting for her husband. While I was talking to her I started to get a very bad feeling. I didn’t say a word to Aaron, but in my gut I thought for sure that OJ was dead.

Metro staff told us that the next train was going to be the last train. The train came and let off its passengers. Looking around desperately, neither I or this woman could find our loved ones. Finally at the end of the line, OJ came through the gate. We all left, literally shaking as we walked because we were still in so much shock that we could barely utter a word to each other. The woman I had been talking to wasn’t as lucky. Her husband didn’t get off the train, and as we left she broke down and began to sob. I never found out if he even survived.

8:00 p.m.
That evening President Bush addressed the nation. By that time the phones began to start working again, and I called my father to video tape it, and told him that after the speech is over to just let the tape run. I thought it might be important to tape the news from the events of the day. When I watched the tape of the news reports that night, I saw reporters weep as they reported the news, with the Pentagon still burning in the night sky, along walls that I had walked dozens of times before, now obliterated.

A few weeks later I was driving a cab and picked up a middle aged woman. She told me that her five closest friends, everyone who made up her social life, had all worked at the Pentagon. They all perished that day, and she was left without a friend in the world. Many Americans know quite well the horror that was that day, but for many of those who don’t live in the NYC and Washington, D.C. regions, you can never know what it was like it have to wake up on that day looking for your loved ones. It is the kind of horror that I wouldn’t wish on my worse enemy.

Unfortunately, other people in different countries witness this kind of destruction all the time. As decent human beings, the lest I could ask of my readers is to reflect back to that day. For us in the D.C. area, we spent much of that morning looking at the sky, and hoping and praying that the sky was all we saw.

As bad as 9/11 was, those who met their fates went quickly. If there was anything positive you could say about it, it was that the attacks that killed so many of us that day, at least stopped coming by that morning. When I look at the horror that is the city of New Orleans, I can say without a doubt, that this is much, much worse. 9/11 brought down several buildings in NYC, but this hurricane has taken out the entire city of New Orleans. It is as if an atomic bomb was dropped on the city. What makes things worse, is that the situation is not over, but it is continuing. There are people there at this moment, who could very well die tomorrow. As Americans, we have a duty to do all we possibly can to help our Louisiana neighbors out.

Some time ago I was studying The Buddhist Scriptures, and the Buddhist religion in general. I came across a saying, that I believe came from the Dalai Lama, that I think we should take heed today.

“For as long as there is space and time
And centuries to pass and become old
As long as there is a living human heart
Dispel the misery of the world.”

That is our task. That is what we all must do.


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