Where were you on 9/11? That question has become part of the fabric of our lives as Americans. On that bright, sunny day, none of us had any idea what was in store and how it would change our lives. Depending on what part of the country you lived in, you may not have known anything was going on until several hours after the first plane struck. You may not have heard the news until you got to work, turned on your car radio, or received a call from a loved one asking if you had seen or heard the news. Ashes Ashes the Twins Fall Down is a look at the events of 9/11 from personal and informational perspectives. Author, Pauline Hawkins, who lived in Texas at the time of the attacks, shares her experience of 9/11, and its repercussions for her family, her job, and how she viewed the world. Pauline's story of coping with the news, reframing how she thought about America and the world, and making a conscious decision to become better-informed will resonate with anyone who lived through 9/11. In addition to her personal testimony, Pauline provides a thought-provoking context for the events of 9/11, including political background, social commentary, and reflections on the contributions of everyday heroes. You'll come away from this book both enlightened and comforted by Pauline's honesty and common sense, as well as her heartfelt appreciation of those who sacrificed for our country, and those who continue to work toward healing and rebuilding.First Chapter:
Ashes Ashes the Twins Fall DownDo You Remember?
How often do you as k the question, "Do you remember?" If you are like me, you probably ask the question when you are reminiscing over old times such as fond childhood memories or things that happened as recently as last year. Although there are times that I ask the question to obtain information, such as, "Do you remember where in the mall that hip-hop store is located?" I think most people ask the question quite often and do not even think twice about it.
There was a time, however, when I used to ask the question when I honestly was not reminiscing or trying to obtain information; but rather, I was trying to declare my youth. At the time, I had no real idea how powerful this question could be or the emotions that this question could manifest. I really would not have any idea about the power of this question until much later in my life. So how would I use this question to declare my youth?
When I was younger, and up until September 11, 2001, I always used the day when President John F. Kennedy was shot as a reference point in distinguishing between someone older and me. Whether I knew how old the other person was or not, I knew that if they were older than me I could get a reaction out of them and get them to give their age away by asking them one simple question, "Do you remember where you were when J.F.K. was shot?" If they could remember, they'd usually reminisce about exactly where they were, how old they were, what they were doing, and in some instances they would get a far-off look in their eyes and some would even tear up. That's when I'd hit them with what I considered the punch line: "I wasn't even born yet. I wasn't born until April of the following year." In that instant, the distinction was made, my youth declared, and the sought-after reaction obtained.
Why even bother or worry about distinguishing between someone older and myself? I am not sure I ever really knew the answer to that question during those days. In looking back, it was my way of declaring my youth, or maybe it was my way of making sure everyone knew I was not the oldest person in the group. As a matter of fact, for many years not only was I not the oldest, but I was usually the youngest. As much as I hate to admit it, the question would get a big reaction, and I enjoyed it. Of course, as I have gotten older, fewer and fewer people are actually able to answer that question; more and more people, like me, were not born yet.
So then, why did I use that particular day as my reference point? I suppose because this was the one day that really stood out in my mind as a landmark day in the life of our country. From everything I learned as I was growing up, this particular day, and some of the days following, united this country. In a single moment in time, an event took place that caused our country to pause together, cry together, mourn together, and sit by their televisions and radios together. This day affected everyone in the country, young and old alike - or at least everyone that was old enough to understand what was happening.
So then, what is it about September 11, 2001, that would cause a change in all of this for me? It would open my eyes to the emotions that go along with experiencing an event that not only unites a country but also changes it forever. It was not until 9/11 that I realized what had become a reaction-getter or game for me was a very real experience in the lives of the people from whom I was trying to distinguish myself. Little did I know that while I thought the important distinction was my youth, it was really their having lived through such a significant event in the history of our country. I suddenly discovered that the joke had been on me all those years.
This brings me to my question for you: "Do you remember where you were when you heard about the attack on 9/11?" I would ask if you remembered where you were when you heard about the first plane crashing into the North Tower at the World Trade Center, but maybe this was not the first event of the day that you became aware of. Depending upon what part of the country you lived in at the time, you may not even have been out of bed yet when the first plane crashed. If you weren't an avid morning listener of the radio or an avid morning television watcher, you may not have even realized anything was going on until you got to work, or to the grocery store, or maybe even received a phone call from a friend or loved one asking if you'd seen or heard the news. On this day, most of us were going about our normal routines, totally oblivious to what was going on in New York.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard the first report. I was sitting in my car on the way to work that day, listening to one of the local radio stations. I always listened to the radio on my way in to work. I really listened for the music, and not the news, but in those days most of the morning radio stations spent more time on their morning commentaries - and I use this word very loosely - than on playing music. This was before satellite radio became so popular, and therefore most of us did not have satellite radio in our vehicles or even really know what satellite radio was all about. The average person was stuck with good old AM/FM radio. In those days, you got news whether it was what you wanted or not, along with a lot of needless information and such, when what you really wanted was mindless music to simply get yourself to work. It is not that I do not care for the news; it is just that my preference for driving to work is music.
I remember that the initial report I heard indicated that some sort of plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. Now mind you, the visual of towering buildings I had seen as the backdrop for most television and movies filmed in New York was about all I knew of the World Trade Center. Of course, that backdrop always made it very easy to determine the location of a particular television show or movie, and made it very difficult to convince watchers that the characters were anywhere but New York City. Most major recognizable cities have their identifying landmarks: Chicago with the Sears Tower, St. Louis with the Arch, Las Vegas with its strip, but there was nothing quite as identifiable as those Twin Towers. Little did anyone know on that day that the backdrop that was so associated with one city was about to be changed forever.
The initial report that I heard indicated that the plane that hit the tower was a small plane, and that there was even speculation that the information was either wrong or a hoax. At that time, I remember the radio station indicating that they did not have any actual details. I also remember them indicating their dismay that a plane surely could not have crashed into the World Trade Center. Think about it. A plane crashing into the World Trade Center - what are the actual odds? Not to mention, how would something like that happen? Of course, it was not unheard-of that a plane could crash, but it was not as though the World Trade Center had just completed construction or had just popped up overnight as a fixture in the New York skyline. After all, the World Trade Center had been part of the New York City skyline for years, and even an inexperienced pilot should have known it was there, or he/she should not have been flying.
In looking back, I have realized how naive I was that day and all the other days before it. Here I was, headed to work thinking about all the things I had to do that day and wondering how I was going to get them all done. I never once thought, nor had reason to think, that the day would be any different from any other day. It
never entered my mind that something of the magnitude of what was happening could happen here in the United States. The U.S. was not exempt from tragedy, but the events of this day were unlike anything this country had ever seen, or experienced, at home. How many of us start and even spend our day with our heads not necessarily in the clouds, but buried in our own little world, not even acknowledging there is anything outside of our world?
So there I was in my Nissan Quest, headed for work in Plano, Texas, listening to the disc jockeys on the radio debating the validity of the first plane crash. It was then that they received the report that a plane had actually hit one of the towers and that the plane was an American Airlines flight. Yes, an American Airlines flight. Not just some small single-prop puddle jumper, as my parents used to
refer to them, but a commercial jet. Even the smallest commercial jet in those days made a single-prop plane look like a matchbox car next to a Tonka truck. While I'm sure that a single-prop plane is fully capable of its own sort of devastation, a commercial jet of that size carrying that amount of fuel would magnify that devastation by tens if not hundreds.
The radio station, being the daily provider of morning news, started informing their listeners of all facts, or information, that they knew, minimal though it might be. Even now, I can tell you that I was still filled with a lot of skepticism and disbelief. Stories like this remind me of the game we played as kids known as Operator. Operator was the game where a bunch of us lined up in a single-file
line and someone on one end started a story, or phrase, or whatever. Then that person whispered whatever they had made up, into the ear of the person in line standing next to them, and that person whispered it into the ear of the next person in line, and so on and so on, until the last person in line received the information. Once the last person in line obtained whatever was passed down from person to person, they shouted it out to the group. What was shouted out
to the group was never what the first person in line had started, but some variation or rendition diluted by the number of people the information passed through before reaching the individual who reported it to the group. Many initial news reports are like that. I am not knocking people reporting the news; I am simply saying that people, with the best intentions, hear what they hear and then interpret it and finally repeat it. Most information is grounded in some initial truth, or fact, but until information is checked and verified, and checked again, it becomes the victim of human interpretation, or the Operator game.
Regardless of the complete accuracy of the information that we were receiving, the local radio station was trying their best to keep the public, or at least the Dallas public, informed of the breaking news. At this point, the information received indicated that the tragedy that had just taken place was a fluke accident. At the time, no one knew, or had any idea, what would unfold in the next few minutes or hours. Believe me, if we had known what was in store, we all would have exited the ride, insisted on a refund, and gone home. It was then, while still sitting in my car, that I called my father from my cell phone. To be honest, I am not completely sure exactly why I was calling my dad. Was it to tell him the news, or was it to find out what facts he may have heard? I suppose it could even have been the human need to share information. No matter why I called him, I did.
My dad was retired - or that is what he tells people. He is one of those retired people who still gets up by 6:00 a.m., has his morning coffee, and then turns on his computer. Even then, most of us were computer junkies. You did not have to turn on the television or radio or even open the morning paper to get your dose of morning news; you just turned on the computer. If your computer was connected to the internet, you were connected to the world. You got your stock reports, weather, and of course news - and not just local or national news, but worldwide news.
When my dad answered the phone, the first thing out of my mouth was, "Did you hear about the plane crashing into the World Trade Center?" What a way to start a conversation. Most people say, "Hello" and even identify themselves - but not me; not on this call.
He immediately replied, "No - when did this happen? Do they know what happened?"
It was then that I got to do my rendition of the Operator game. I told him, to the best of my recollection, the facts provided by the local radio station. As I informed him of the morning's events he turned on his television, first to the local station, and then to a national station. He turned to a national station because at the time there was nothing reported locally. The reports on the national station were still very sketchy and limited; after all, it was only a little after 8:00 a.m.
By this time in my driving, I had finally made it to the parking garage at work and had parked my car. It was obvious that Dad did not have any more information than I had, so I decided it was time to say goodbye and head into work. It sounds a little cavalier - but remember, at this point most everyone thought this was a single isolated accident and nothing more. Therefore, I informed my dad that I needed to go and get in to work, but that if he heard anything else to let me know. He indicated that he would, and so we each said, "Goodbye."
Therefore, with my car parked, I put on my access badge, gathered my stuff, locked the car, and headed in to work. I was completely oblivious to what was happening in Lower Manhattan, as was the rest of my little corner of the world.
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