By Janet Graham, Guest Blogger
(This article appeared in the 9/11/2011 Detroit Free Press)
When I woke to the sound of sirens in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, I had no idea that it would be the day the world would change. I never imagined 10 years later that my life, and my country, would feel so different.
It’s typical to hear sirens, lots of sirens, when you’re staying in New York City. But as I looked out the window of my friend’s 36th Street apartment, I saw the giant horizontal plume of smoke emanating from the World Trade Center towers. It looked like a very bad fire. I flipped on the TV to learn a plane had hit one of the towers. I started to feel scared, without even knowing what was yet to happen.
I spent the rest of the day as many did, watching the coverage of the horrific attacks, but I alternated it with going outside on my friend’s terrace and seeing it unfold live. It seemed exactly like a disaster movie as the towers collapsed, one by one, into a cloud of dust shaped like a mushroom cloud.
When I went outside later, I saw survivors walking up from what would soon be called Ground Zero. Many still had bits of the dust in their hair, their faces smeared with dirt and smoke and shell-shocked looks on their faces. It was hard to process the events. I found myself calling my loved ones to hear their voices and let them know I was OK.
The days that followed in New York felt like an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Amid all the confusion and rescue efforts at Ground Zero, the most noticeable thing was the eerie silence. In a city that usually lives at ear-crushing decibels with sirens, horns, loud noises from trucks unloading and more, there was little traffic and a frightening stillness.
People shuffled wordlessly up sidewalks and mostly just nodded. Occasionally, a friend would greet another with a heartfelt hug, saying, “I’m so glad you’re OK.”
Most of the entrances into the city were closed, and hardly anyone was going to work. There were handmade cardboard signs taped to mailboxes saying “No pickups for at least TWO more days.”
The city had an apocalyptic feel, with many residents wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the dust and other poisons that still hung in the air. I would look up and see fighter jets overhead, watching in case the terrorists struck again. I felt mostly numb but also worried about the possibility of another attack.
Remembering those days now, it’s really not shocking that the U.S. reacted to the attacks by invading Afghanistan. Everyone wanted something done, some form of retaliation.
More surprising, in retrospect, is that we followed this with the passage of the Patriot Act and another invasion, this time into Iraq, a country with no apparent connection to the attacks.
Ten years later, life is very different, for our country, and for me. At that time, I was working as a freelance sports writer for Reuters, in New York to cover the U.S. Open tennis tournament and staying a few days afterward to visit with friends. I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to news stories then. Now, I’ve moved from Ohio to Detroit, and I deal with the big news stories, from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the killing of Osama bin Laden, as both a news copy editor and a frequent nation and world editor.
America seems permanently changed as well, and not for the better. Although there hasn’t been another major attack within our borders, it has been a decade of decline with two long wars and the financial crisis. America is dealing with many more unemployed people, and many more without health care or those who struggle to pay for it. There is an ever-broadening gap between the haves and the have-nots. The American Dream is taking a beating.
When I wrote about my experiences 10 years ago, I said the attacks may have robbed us of our sense of security but they didn’t even dent our humanity.
Today, I’m not so sure.