Working from home on the morning of 9/11, a neighbor called just before deadline for the afternoon edition. She thought a Cessna struck one of the twin towers and I should check it out.
I flipped on the TV and saw the flames and thought the fire was on the outside of the building. Maybe just the small plane and passengers had died and the south tower had sustained the blow. I made a call to my editor, knowing the TV was not on in the newsroom (it went on at night for sports) and no one was aware.
I was able to contact my brother who was on his way to a meeting near the tower for some quotes. Hearing the “all circuits busy” response for 15 minutes on a cellphone was scary. While cellphones were somewhat new, that recording from the operator was nothing I expected.
After the paper came out, I ran my hands through my hair and started spinning in my chair. My eyes kept coming to a rest on the red bag against the wall.
My turnout gear.
As a volunteer firefighter, I knew my worth. I was an average radio operator going to the scene, above average as the department secretary and pretty good at flipping chickens at 5 a.m. for a BBQ. Fighting fires or saving people? Nope. Those were the good guys.
But I knew from the early news I could get to the scene if I left that minute and drove across state to Ground Zero. I would capture the heroes at work and help move rubble if needed.
I didn’t go. It was a selfish thought, I wasn’t asked to go. I wound up writing a story about a local EMT who had the same rush I did and took the ambulance and drove it to NYC without permission. He was arrested.
The world stood still. We listened to the radio without commercials, watched TV news programs for hours without commercials, and as reporters, we told story after heartbreaking story. The security and financial structure of our country would never be the same, and we knew this within 48 hours of the attacks.
When the pandemic hit, I felt this was a way to help. Get the word out in East Texas to keep our readers and residents safe and informed. I was livid (and still am) over the bumbling of reporting early on and the many who used health care privacy laws as an excuse when they clearly did not cover the release of this information.
What if, early on, the entire country was on the same page with reporting cases? What if we knew the neighborhood, we knew how the person got it and where they were? Make it hit home.
The reporting was so vague a lot of people said, “It’s not here.”
“It’s not here.”
That’s every place in America as the choice of drugs went from marijuana to crack, heroin and meth.
“It’s not here.”
It is here, and so is COVID-19.
I have family in New York City. They said silence was one thing that made them realize this was like nothing they’ve ever experienced after 9/11. There was traffic, but no one honked their horns. People stopped to let people cross. People waved, shook hands, hugged, cried.
During this pandemic, it’s been one fight after another, from use of masks to what is open to politics. Especially politics. And especially hate.
That is not how the country came together the last time we had an attack.
However, on Friday, the hate on social media was replaced by a lot of remembrance posts. At Ground Zero, Vice President Mike Pence wound up face-to-face with former Vice President Joe Biden. Both want to be in the White House in 2021. But at that moment, masked, they elbow bumped, the alternative to the respectful handshake.
I think of the renaming of the schools.
And then I think of Dr. Bryan C. Jack, of Tyler, who was 48 when he lost his life as a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77. It crashed into the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, not more than 200 feet from his office.
There is an elementary school named after him in Tyler. A great move without any challenge or hate.
During the opening NFL game, players from both teams took the field arm-in-arm to promote peace. It was not political. They were booed.
Everyone has some connection to Sept. 11, 2001. Even if you don’t know someone who died or know someone who knows someone, you could be affected emotionally or spiritually thinking of that day.
Remember what brought us together. Remember Dr. Jack.
And I don’t mean remember by reflecting. Remember the next time you are about to share a strong message of hate or a strong political view. Remember it before you click send on an email or a text.
It takes a tragedy to bring this country together. The spirit was strong in 1980 during the Lebanon hostage crisis. The spirit returned 21 years later at 9/11. Now almost another 20 years have passed and where are we?
If the world could stop for a minute like it did on 9/11, maybe everyone would realize the end result everyone is going for is the world we lived in the weeks after 9/11.
Not the death. Not the tragedy. But the humanity.
You see someone who signed their life away to help others and you thank them. You shake their hand. You hug them.
(John Anderson is the regional editor of the Longview News-Journal and Tyler Morning Telegraph. He can be reached at email@example.com)