Nine Eleven... Before September 11, 2001 those numbers met the phone number you call in case of emergency, but then it was "nine one one" not "nine eleven". In September 2001 my family and I lived about 3 miles from the airport I fly from now, directly under the straight in approach for runways three one. My daughter was two. My husband and I were trying to figure out how we were going to pay the money we owed to the IRS for our stock gains the previous year. The biggest TV news was who was getting voted off the island and a scandal about an intern and a California state senator. George Bush was president and seemed to be on vacation more often than he was working. The nation's economy was faltering in the wake of the "dot com bubble burst". Our problems, personal and national, seemed significant, but in reality they were petty and small.
That morning I had to wake up earlier than usual to go to work and join a conference call about a global hardware retrofit program I was kicking off that day. When my husband and I turned on the news we saw the first reports of a plane flying into the world trade center. We were shocked and headed into work with our little girl in her car seat. Our Jeep at the time had a TV tuner in its video system (the fruits of those same stock sales that got us into trouble with the IRS) As I drove to work my husband watched on the TV in the Jeep as the second plane hit the tower. We knew it was not an accident. We got to the office and other co-workers were watching the news on steaming video as the towers fell one by one. At this point I canceled the conference call. I don't remember much more about that day beyond the numb horror as each new event unfolded, the plane flying into the Pentagon, the two missing planes, the FAA grounding all flights. I think we both worked our full day, going through the motions of normalcy as well as we could. We picked up our daughter from her daycare and headed home, listening to the news... the outpouring of compassion and sympathy from the nations around the world. From our colleagues around the world. More TV and news that night. Falling asleep.. numb, wishing it was all just a bad dream and knowing it wasn't.
Waking up the next day to more news, some pieces of what happened to Flight 93 and how the passengers fought back. I remember telling my husband, whoever did this woke the sleeping giant. Just as the Emperor of Japan knew after attacking Pearl Harbor.... the sleeping giant has awakened and would not rest unavenged. The nation was united now, our petty problems, taxes, scandals, who was being voted off the island, how much we liked or didn't like the president, all were wiped away with our grief, unity and new sense of purpose. We would not allow whoever did this to destroy what makes America what it is. I printed a little flag and placed it in our window. The world was ready to help us avenge our dead and ensure this would never happen again. For a few, precious, incredible moments in history... the whole world was united in grief and sense of purpose.
I write this 10 years later on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The person who masterminded the plot against us died at American hands a couple months ago. We've lost twice as many soldiers in the wars we've started (and still fight) since that day than perished in the original attacks. Countries have toppled, dictatorships are dead, other countries are in the midst of revolution... people's revolution. My country is back to being America again... fighting and squabbling amongst ourselves. Idiots on all sides of the aisle wrapping themselves in the flag and declaring their ideologies even more inflexibly than ever. The country is teetering on the brink of yet another financial disaster. The political vitriol and spite is worse than I can remember. But I guess that's America for you... there's good and bad in all things, even in the country that I love.
We've regained the freedom of the skies. GA is allowed to fly. I just learned recently how close I was to losing a chance to ever even discover my dream of flight. I was talking with a young CFI today and we both agreed that no terrorists will be able to use a plane as a guided missile again. Before September 11 Americans assumed even terrorists loved life like we do.. that terrorists wouldn't want to die. That all we had to do was cooperate. We know better now. No terrorist will be able to take the controls of a plane again, small or large, without the pilots and passengers and crew fighting them with every ounce of their being. Rest assured, no pilot will allow his or her plane to be used to harm others... never again. We know better.
We will thwart the terrorists in two ways.
One - if they try to use us and our planes to harm others, they will die, and we may die too... but it will be in a field or on a mountainside, not by flying into a tower or building of their choice. No, never again.
Two - we will fly, we will live, we will run and drive and bike and travel and fight and squabble amongst ourselves and be impure and just and holy and wrong and right. We will have unity and strife and red states and blue states and loved and hated presidents and political parties and scandals and churches and mosques and synagogues and theaters and stadiums and racing and football AND soccer and television and music and food and drink and children and wedding and funerals... but we will remain US - the USofA.
Terrorists.. you have failed in all but one thing.. you have made us aware there are people who do not value life, and those of us who do value life will now sacrifice our own lives to keep you from taking others.
Tomorrow I fly, and the day after and the day after that. I am so grateful you did not take that away from me. I pray no one does. I pray the skies will remain free for all Americans and our visiting friends. This is a wonderful country... and you get to appreciate it even more from the air. As someone said, "I fly to escape the tyranny of petty things." Including terrorism.