It seems incredible that a full 12 years have passed since the World Trade Center went down on September 11, 2001, but the math does add up. Like the Kennedy assassination, people will often ask if you remember where you were when you were informed of the attacks. I was in London; I had yet to escape the career I had fallen into through circumstance rather than desire – I was testing computers straight out of college, and on that particular day I was contracted to GlaxoSmithKline, near Heathrow Airport.
Earlier that week, I had received a joke email. You might remember it; it was passed around a lot. The Photoshopped picture featured a pilot and his co-pilot turning around to smile at the camera, thumbs up, while through the window you could see another plane heading right for him. Fairly typical dumb email fare, and we chuckled a little.
So when I received an email 12 years ago (five hours ahead, so it was around 2 p.m. in London) with a picture that showed the first tower on fire, I thought it was a joke. In fact, I wish it was. I thought it was another clever bit of Photoshop trickery. I mean, there’s no way something like that could really happen in New York City, right? The plane would get shot down first. (I know, that doesn’t make sense either but I was young and knew nothing of safety zones, military practices or, really, anything).
I then remember a lot of people jumping up from their office chairs and gathering around a monitor, and I joined them just in time to see the second plane hit. It still took a little time, but it slowly clicked that the footage was being screened on major news networks, and that it was real.
The rest of that day was weird. We were all the way over the Atlantic, but New York felt incredibly close. That’s the selfish side of it, I guess. If they can get to Manhattan, they can get anywhere, including to us. That feeling passed, however, when I saw the first person jump. Some of the networks were criticized for showing footage of the people choosing to jump, and it was horrific. It was necessary though, because it hammered home the terror. 2,996 isn’t just a number. At least 200 of those people either fell or made the decision to jump, and that was what kept me awake for a few nights. What goes through a person’s head when having to make that awful decision?
In the days, weeks and years that followed, much was discussed. Conspiracy theorists seemed to take great joy in exclaiming that they just know that it was an inside job, when of course they know nothing of the sort (at best, they suspect, and that’s a stretch). Many civilians mistakenly thought that Iraq was responsible. Really, any country in the Middle East. That wasn’t true either.
When bin Laden was killed in May 2011, nearly ten years after the attacks, closure, or at least some level of comfort, was granted to many who deserved comfort. He might not have been al-Qaeda’s top man at that point, maybe not even a threat at all, but he was a bad man. I don’t personally believe in the death penalty, generally speaking, but I certainly didn’t weep for him.
So 12 years have passed, and everyone that is able has picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, and we’ve moved forward. Today, more than any other day, don’t examine and pick apart. Don’t spread theories. Do that tomorrow, if you must. Today, just remember the 2,996 lives. Look at the faces, and think of the firefighters, police officers and anyone else who rushed into the carnage to help. They didn’t all make it out. 2,996 isn’t just a number.