As I stood in the parking lot changing out of my wet suit after a morning of surfing, I heard someone say, “hey, the world trade center blew up.” What? What are you talking about? As I got home and put the surfing gear away, I mentioned to my wife that something must be happening on the East Coast.
I drove to work. As I walked into the office it was my first sense that something was really wrong. Everyone was quiet, staring at video playing on their computers. I sat down at my desk and started looking at email. One of the first ones that caught my attention was a link to a newsfeed. The newsfeed everyone was watching. For the next six hours, not much got done. We all sat silently watching in horror at the death and destruction and then the acts of heroism.
I was watching the names of the dead scroll by on the screen as they replayed over and over the video of the airplanes flying intentionally into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Up to then I had just been filled with sadness. But then I saw three names scroll by, all with the same last name. Because the ages of the individuals were included I could see that it was a family with a small child. Christine Lee Hanson, two and a half years old. My own son was only six, my daughter 11. The thought went through my head. What do you say to your small child when you realize that death is eminent? For the first time that day, I cried.
I do not remember much of the rest of the day. Around 1500 I decided to go home to my family. Nothing was getting done at work and I really needed to let my family know that I loved them. Driving home I listened to the radio. In an interview with a man on the street he told about watching firefighters joking with each other as they wrote their social security numbers on their limbs and torsos. That was to make identification of their bodies easier. I had to pull over.
In the weeks that followed, security was heightened everywhere. Parking in front of the building at work was no longer permitted. Car that were parked in from the building were towed almost immediately. For at least a day or so there were no aircraft in the sky. None. I saw flags everywhere. On my drive home that day there were flags on almost every overpass on the freeway. And they stayed up for weeks to come.
Congress stood as one for at least a moment. For a while, we were a nation united.