Near Yellow Mountain

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11

In the years since 9/11/2001, I have flown many times on the anniversary of that sad day. This morning I am sitting in the lounge at Denver Airport waiting to fly home. I am looking at my boarding pass that says September 11, 2014. It is hard to see that date on a boarding pass without thinking back to the day that when the Twin towers fell and the world changed.

I was living in Japan on September 11, 2001. I had just returned home from a dinner with my visiting boss. As I walked into the living room of our apartment, I remember saying I was tired and hoped there was “something interesting on TV”. We didn’t watch much TV when we lived in Japan. In 2001, our international options were limited to CNN, BBC and maybe a cartoon network. I flipped on CNN and saw a distant shot of the Twin Towers and a commentator saying it appeared that a small plane such as a Cessna had crashed into the one of the Towers. It was a beautiful morning in NYC so it was hard to image how a small plane would be in that airspace and crash into the WTC. I began to read a book but was interested in finding what in fact had hit the World Trade Center so I continued to listen to CNN in the background.

It is hard to image now but when the second plane hit the WTC, I literally did not believe it. I said to my wife that it was probably the work of some precocious computer geek that hacked into CNN’s feed. I could see my wife did not share my theory. Rather than continue to watch, I told my wife I had to get up early and went to bed believing all was well in NYC. The idea that terrorists could attack NYC and Washington with commercial aircraft was unimaginable.

As I slumbered my wife remained vigilant in front of the TV. I woke up in the middle of the night, the TV in the bedroom still on. My wife was visibly shaken. She confirmed that the US had indeed been attacked and my "hacker theory" was sadly incorrect. I switched channels and the coverage by then was universal.

The following day was a blur. We woke our daughters up and explained the big buildings we had taken them to see just a few weeks earlier on a visit home were now piles of smoldering rubble. Like their parents it was almost impossible for our daughters to grasp the idea of the US being attacked.

I headed into Osaka on a busy commuter train to meet my boss and start the day. Lost in thought I felt a hand on my shoulder. The normally reserved Japanese commuters also seemed stunned and many of them took leave of their standard behavior and made physical contact with me.  Many said in halting English or Japanese that they were “sorry”.  In the more than 2,000 days I have spent in Japan over the years that 21 minute train ride probably had more of an impact on me than any other experience I had overseas.

I spent the next few days trying to get my boss on a plane back to the US. Flights to the US were suspended that day, the next day and the one after that. Finally I suggested he take Air Canada to Toronto and drive to North Carolina.

I foolishly thought the storm would pass and everything would be back to normal within a month.

Thirteen years later as I sit in an airport lounge – the talk on the news is about both the anniversary of the attacks 13 years ago and the ongoing threats we still live with.