Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

That morning eight years ago I was at work when the first plane hit. A colleague of mine heard the news and told me, but I just assumed it was a small private plane that had been in some sort of accident. Busy with other projects, I didn't give it much thought.

Then the second plane hit, and it was obvious this was no accident. At a 21st century workplace, naturally the first place we looked for more information was the Web. Ominously, was not responding. But we learned pretty quickly that the two planes were not small aircraft, but huge jetliners.

The Twin Towers were visible from my office building, so we walked over to the window to see what was going on. The towers, normally just mirrored glimmers on the horizon, were clearly on fire, smoke pouring into the clear morning sky. I tried calling my wife on her cell phone, but got the message that all circuits were busy. I left a message at home instead.

By now we were hearing rumors, some peddled by CNN: a plane had been shot down by the Air Force; a plane had crashed into the Pentagon; another half-dozen airliners in U.S. airspace were unaccounted for. News Web sites, overwhelmed with traffic, had reverted to a minimalist text-only mode to make reports, with just a few pictures of the unfolding events. It was there we saw the first close-up images of people jumping, of brave firefighters, of the Pentagon in flames.

My wife called me around the time the south tower fell. She had been running errands that morning and had just heard what was going on when she arrived back home. She was horrified; I will never forget the choked sound of her voice on the phone.

There was a television in one of our offices; a few of us congregated there to watch the efforts to save the north tower. Surreally, from that office we could see the actual tower through the window. When it finally collapsed, I could see the dust and smoke billowing in the distance.

Work had come to a standstill, of course. By now it was clear that the capital markets would be closed that day; our business, dependent on those markets, thus had no real reason to stay open. A few of us discussed the processing consequences of being closed unexpectedly for a day or more. We took the necessary steps, and then we all went home to our families. It was a Tuesday; the office would not open again until the following Monday.

We spent the rest of the day watching the news and calling friends and family to make sure everyone was safe. It was quickly clear that this would be a transformative event in our history: we would for a long time refer to the "post-9/11 world" versus the "pre-9/11 world." On that day we were shaken out of our post-Cold War reverie, and reminded that there was still evil in the world, that demanded to be fought if our way of life was to continue.

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