When I think about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fourth plane that crashed in Western Pennsylvania fifteen years ago, I’m struck by the smallest of details that I remember about the day.
I remember how beautiful the day was in Pennsylvania. Or at least how it started out. It wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t too cold. It was a perfect sunny early Fall day. I can’t tell you what I ate yesterday for breakfast, but I remember sliding down my car window on the way to work and enjoying the cool breeze and the day God had created. Later I remember looking out my office window that day and thinking that I had to get outside at lunch for a walk or even a run. It was that kind of day.
That feeling went away pretty quickly.
Shortly after arriving at work, we started to see the news. First the awful image of the planes hitting the Towers and then later the buildings collapsing into rubble on the ground.
I remember feeling complete and utter sadness for the victims. You can’t watch new clips from that day and not feel for the people caught up in the inferno caused by the crash or who died in the collapse; the police, the firefighters, the first responders, the survivors, the injured, everyone touched by the day in New York, the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, and the crash in Somerset County.
Of course, I remember feeling anger that Islamic radicals would want to hurt so many people and wondering how such hatred manifests itself.
I also remember the look on my baby girl’s face. Talk about odd situations. Like most people, when I returned home that evening, I was washed out, numb from everything that I had seen. I tried to escape to my bedroom, but I couldn’t resist. I turned on the TV to see more of the horrible news. The next minute I was back in our kitchen with a birthday cake, because five-year olds celebrating a birthday don’t understand terrorism. Five-years don’t understand hate. They want to feel special and celebrate with their family.
So I walked into the kitchen with a forced smile and belted out the loudest “Happy Birthday” I could muster. Fortunately my daughter was too young to notice that the smile was a fake. She was just happy to see her daddy.
Our dinner time prayer before the start of the birthday celebration seemed to take on an even more important meaning. We prayed for everyone we could think of that night, family members in New York, survivors, victims, their families, and for the country as a whole.
Later that night, my daughter asked why my wife wouldn’t let her go, why she wouldn’t stop hugging her. “Oh we just love you honey. We just don’t want the birthday celebration to end,” I said, laughing it off to mommy being sentimental and not wanting her baby girl to grow any bigger.
And we will not forget. The memories have faded over the years. My baby girl is out in the real world and on her own. And the world has changed drastically, both good and bad, but the feelings and emotions are still fresh and probably will be for the rest of my life. I suspect they are that way for everyone who survived that horrible, horrible day.