Monday, May 2, 2011

Ten years later - finally part of the 9/11 story

By the time I woke up in the late morning of September 11, 2001, both Twin Towers had collapsed, the Pentagon was in flames, scorched earth scarred a field in Pennsylvania - and I, a journalist, had missed it all.

Now, in the early morning of May 2, 2011, I reflect upon the news of Osama bin Laden's death - and in so doing, received a sort of closure I have been seeking for nearly a decade. 

I did not lose a loved one in the 9/11 attacks, but a part of me always felt hollowed out when thinking about that day. At that time, I was working as the night editor for the Middletown Journal. The night before, on Sept. 10, had been rather hectic - so much so, that I decided to sleep in and not set my alarm in the morning. 

I woke up to great alarm anyway. 

I came in to work that day expecting to be wildly busy, but I really wasn't, So many of the editors rightly stayed on thoughout the evening that I felt like a fifth wheel, and I didn't get to contribute much to the coverage.  That has always bothered me.

Now, 10 years later, the world is a very different place. In 2001, the Internet had been prominent for a few years but was still not nearly as dominant as it is today. Facebook and Twitter didn't even exist back then. I'm not even sure MySpace was all that prevalant at that point. 

In 2001, I found out about 9/11 through a phone message from my dad, and a news report I read on Yahoo. And even then I still thought it was an elaborate hoax, until I turned on the TV and saw the towers crash down. 

In 2011, shortly before 10:30 p.m.,  I was checking in to Facebook as usual and read that President Obama was about to make some kind of announcement relating to national security. That didn't sound good to me. A cloud formed over my head. 

Then, I switched on the TV to NBC news, which shortly confirmed that bin Laden was dead. And yes, rays of light did peek through the cloud. I was relieved the news was not dire. But I was not jubilant either. I cast a wary eye on footage of people celebrating outside the White House. 

I posted this status on Facebook. "It is good indeed that Osama bin Laden is dead, but I hesitate to think this is the end of anything other than his life. We must not let our guard down." 

I wasn't trying to be eloquent - I was just saying what was on my mind the most direct way I could. So I was surprised, and rather flattered that two friends of mine quoted me and tagged me on Facebook so other friends could read it.

Ironically enough, I may not be working at my newspaper job at all today. I have to work this coming Saturday, so I was taking Monday off. I have told my boss I would be ready to come in if needed. But even if I don't, I feel I have finally become part of the 9/11 story in a way I never had before.

But in a very crucial way, I still do not feel settled. None of us should. Yes, there is cause for celebration. It is good that one of the most evil men the world has ever seen is gone. It is good that those who lost loved ones may feel some sense of closure. But our pride must be tempered by vigilance. We could make no worse mistake now then to become complacent amid our gratitude. 

In many ways, a decade ago, we were asleep at the switch. And we can ill afford to avert our eyes again. I  may not sleep much after I write this - and that is good. The more restless we all are, the better. 

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