Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11, 2001 - Never Forget!
We the People Need to Remember 9/11

I'll never forget the events of 9/11.

I was staying at the W hotel in Chicago, where I had flown in for the band Soil's CD release party for the album Scars, one of several great records that was to be released that day.

My college roommate and his girlfriend had driven down from Milwaukee the night before and spent the night in the room, and our cellphones started ringing shortly after 7:45 am - and we ignored them. But Christian's mother is persistent. He finally answered, half asleep, and I heard, "yes mother, we'll turn on the news when we wake up..." He then mumbled something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, which we all assumed was a prop plane or twin engine... We commented on the tragedy, but weren't awake enough to really grasp the potential gravity of the situation.

Then my girlfriend called from Los Angeles, and considering it was barely sunrise there, I knew I had to answer - she told me to turn on CNN. At this point, it was about ten minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 had impacted the World Trade Center North Tower.

My college roommate and I were political nuts and news junkies - and we, like most Americans, never even thought to imagine that the first crash was a terrorist attack.

Then we watched United Airlines Flight 175 fly into the World Trade Center South Tower live.

How much have the events of that morning changed our lives? When we went to bed on September 10, 2011, we lived in a country where terrorism wasn't even a consideration. When we woke up the next morning, terrorism became the new assumption.

From the moment that second plane impacted the World Trade Center, every horrific act of the next decade has been a suspected act of terrorism until proven otherwise.

So there we sat for the next several hours, sitting in the hotel room glued to CNN in awe of the events unfolding before us.

For me it hit even closer to home - I'm New York at heart, and was raised an hour north of the city. I had moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles a few months earlier, and watching the chaos that enveloped what I still consider home, I felt paralyzed by despair and hopelessness.

Then the Pentagon was hit by American Airlines Flight 77, and the rumors started - the next plane is heading for the Capitol... The White House... The Sears Tower... The Sears Tower was located only a few blocks from our hotel in downtown Chicago, and our lobby became something of an evacuation hotbed.

Soil were flying home from Florida for the night's release party at the time of the attacks, and it took us the better part of the morning to confirm they were alive and well. We were lucky to even find out - it seemed like everyone I knew on the East Coast had a personal connection to the attacks, and very few people had answers.

Cell phones weren't working in Manhattan, and those who were safe had virtually no way to communicate with their loved ones. I had an acquaintance who, for three days, we thought died in one of the towers - it took him that long to start reaching out to people after the initial shock of the day's events had subsided and he'd finally been reunited with his wife and children in New Jersey.

Streets and highways were closed. Mass transit shut down. It was a war zone in lower Manhattan, and New York was bracing itself for any potential attacks that might come next.

In wake of the three successful attacks, when United Airlines Flight 93 did a nosedive into a desolate field near Shanksville, PA, instantly killing everyone on board, its passengers became instant heroes, sacrificing themselves to spare America yet another symbolic battle scar on the most horrific day of our young country's history.

Realizing that I wouldn't be returning to L.A. anytime soon, I drove back to Milwaukee with my roommate that afternoon on what was the emptiest I94 I've ever experienced. We went to grab a few drinks that night, and the feeling in the off-the-beaten-path Milwaukee bar couldn't be more somber.

New York was attacked, but America felt the pain. People who knew New York from little more than Friends and Seinfeld episodes felt united as a people. I'm not talking about me and my roommate, who had eaten in the World Trade Center Windows on the World restaurant a few years earlier with his grandmother - I'm talking about people who had never left a two hour radius of their Midwest home, but suddenly felt a patriotism like never before.

If there was good to come from the attacks, that was it - America was united in tragedy. We weren't Democrats and Republicans, we were Americans. We weren't an East Coast and West Coast looking down our noses at each other with superiority complexes, we were bookends of a great nation standing united, tall, proud and together. In the weeks that followed, all the political bullshit that tears our country apart was nothing but a hazy mist in our rear view mirror.

We were Americans, and we were one people. We believed in our government, and we believed in each other. We embraced the freedom that makes our country great, and we understood what that freedom meant to the rest of the world. We weren't afraid to be strong, because we had no other option.

For the first time, my generation had to be strong because my generation couldn't be weak. We were raised soft, but now we knew what it meant to live hard... Not as hard as our ancestors, but this was our test, and we would rise from the ashes.

Or so we thought.

In time, America forgot. Republicans returned to their role as boogeyman, and Democrats returned to their pulpits, preaching that the only way to be a country again is to change the very principals our nation was built upon.

Americans soon forgot what it was like to be one nation under God (whoever that God may be), because it is easier to be a nation divided. It is easier to blame the other side than it is to fight for change, and it is easier to live in the now than it is to learn from our past and build for a better future.

9/11 changed America - but we live in a country with Attention Deficit Disorder. We live in a land where it is easier to read the headline than it is to understand the story. And we live in a country where it is easier to make excuses than it is to hunker down and get the job done.

America changed, but it didn't take long for America to change back.

America forgot.

America needs to remember - and America needs to never forget what happened on September 11, 2001.

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