Home / Meta / Rants / Essay on September 11, 2001
I bought an American flag today.
It was an interesting experience. It was my first time outside since hearing about the attack and the world was definitely different. Things had a somber note. My town - 45 min outside of New York City - was mostly empty. Those who were out and about were quiet, and the uniform of the day was any clothes that you had which were red, white, blue or dark - the latter if, like me, you wanted to somehow indicate you were mourning.
Being the day after the attack, flags were hard to find. It's Halloween season, who would think to keep patriotic gear in stock?
I tried five stores in the end. Two had nothing, one was only just dragging out its stores of paper flag decorations, one had no flags but still somehow had postcards of the Twin Towers in a rack - I'll admit I bought two - and the final one had only two flags left in stock.
I felt strange buying one- as though it was an insult to be spending money right now of any kind. Would people look at me strangely for even doing it?
But no, no one did. In fact the opposite. As I walked back to my car, flag in hand wrapped tightly around its wooden pole, people seemed grateful. Some nodded. Some cheered. A passing truck driver waved a small flag of his own. One man passed by me, looked at it, and simply said "Yeah."
The flag hangs on my window now. Safe from the elements, but in full view of anyone below. It's a sign of strength and of support. A reminder that now we are all connected.
I found out about the attack after the fact. I turned on my TV sometime after 10am and noticed that VH1 was broadcasting a CBS newsfeed. Realizing something was up I immediately switched to CNN. Same picture - that smoldering skyline - and a caption of "Attack on America".
I called home.
It was then that I knew.
The day was spent with phone calls and email. The majority of my family and friends live and work in the city, many near the WTC. I sent out frantic messages to anyone I could think of, spoke with anyone that the phones could let me reach, prayed that any stranded friends would have the wisdom to go north, to head up to me if it was somehow possible, and hoped like Hell that none of them really had to.
That done, I went to my parents. Oddly enough it wasn't because I felt like a kid who needed her parents, but rather that my parents needed me - the one child who was nearby, and safe, and they could actually see with their own two eyes.
We compared notes, telling what we knew, giving the bad news of all the question marks that were out there, most notably Meredith, who would have arrived at work at about 9am scant blocks from the WTC, my brother and my 15 month old niece who were in mid-town but MIA, and my brother's friend who worked in the WTC.
The day went on. We, like all America, sat glued to the TV. Email proved to be the savior of the day - the one thing which brought news that yes, Chris and Colleen were okay, yes our aunt was safe, yes Meredith had never even made it into the city that morning.
The good news made us cry as much as the bad.
The global community of the Net kicked into gear. Message boards and lists, normally dedicated to TV shows, books or other such things, turned their attention towards information and comfort. And with each group came even more news - who's safe, who's missing, who worked in the targeted areas who you didn't even think of.
The sound of jet planes overhead brought the entire neighborhood together as we all went outside into the early evening to look skyward at what should have been a normal event - a plane flying above us. Everyone called to each other. What was it? What was it doing? Why was it there?
It was obviously military. But that was both a comfort and a fear. It was good to be protected, it was sobering to realize that we needed to be.
Amongst all the people I spoke with, one theme came up again and again - the attack was so savage, so unbelievable, that it could only be thought of as a sick fantasy. As one person said on a mailing list "Where are you, Superman?"
As I sit here now in the early evening of day two I'm reminded that in a way we're all Supermen. Money, blood and volunteers are pouring in so quickly that they need extra volunteers to handle it all. Around the country and around the globe people are stepping forward with a common phrase "I'm here, I'm healthy, how can I help?"
It's a reminder that even in the worst of times, there's nothing like the human spirit.