Wednesday, September 24, 2008

September 11

Thank goodness for podcasting. I was in Chicago on September 11 this year, but, with the magic of digital archiving, I was able to get caught up on my favorite radio program, the Michael Medved Show, when I returned. And I just listened to his broadcast on Sept. 11 yesterday. Boy, did it bring back a flood of memories.

I was up unusually early that Tuesday morning. I had to be at work by 7:30 AM. I was puttering around the kitchen at 6:00, making a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast. The radio was on, and I was listening to the Kirby Wilbur Show on AM 570. He was talking about a local story -- a boy who had accidentally been killed by his father at a shooting range. About a quarter after the hour, the newscaster, Carleen Johnson, broke into his show and said, in a voice I'll never forget, "Kirby, I'm seeing reports that a plane has flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York."

Of course, at first, we thought it was a small, private plane that had lost its bearings and slammed into the building in a tragic accident. I could not conceive that it would be anything else. But, knowing that Jason has interest in both giant skyscrapers and airplanes, I shook him awake and told him to turn on the TV before I went into the shower. While in the shower, I was still listening to the radio when they reported that another airplane had crashed into the other WTC tower. I screamed out, "Terrorists!" Oh God! What a horrible day.

On my drive to work, I heard about the plane exploding into the side of the Pentagon. Soon afterward came news of a possibly unrelated jet crash in Pennsylvania. Driving, driving, driving. I heard that helicopters were trying to fly close enough to rescue people trapped in the top floors of the WTC towers. "They have to get those people out," I whispered to myself, "Because those towers are going to collapse." I don't know how I knew it, but I just had a terrible vision of the two proud structures tumbling to the ground in clouds of smoke and debris. When I saw the footage of the same later, it was hellish déjà vu.

At work it was pale faces, haunted eyes, and hushed voices all day. We kept the radio on in the office as each unfolding of wretched news held our tortured attention. When I returned home that afternoon, I did what I never do: Turned on the television and sat on the couch without moving. It takes a lot of time to ingest that level of evil. Jason came home, and we watched almost all night, praying for news of more rescues, more heroism, more hope. We wanted and needed to know that somehow, someway, our country would survive.

When I drove to work the next morning, I looked at the late summer glory surrounding me. There is no place on earth more beautiful to my eyes than Washington. And I tried to memorize it, because I was convinced that everything had changed forever. I looked to the future, and all I could see was attack after attack by a dispersed, determined, and diabolical enemy. And, admit it, that's what you saw on September 12, 2001, too.

And so, when I listened to Michael Medved last night, it all came rushing back to me -- that day of seven years ago. I started crying. And, when Mr. Medved played clips of President Bush's addressing the nation, whether from the Capitol or from a pile of rubble in Manhattan, I cried even harder. Damn it. You know what? I felt this overwhelming need to say, "Thank you, Mr. President." Because what I thought would be on September 12, 2001 is not my reality on September 24, 2008.

George W. Bush has been simultaneously vilified and dismissed over these past seven years. And, I'll confess, I did not agree that this current Iraq War was the best investment of American lives and taxpayers' dollars; but, here is the thing: I do not fear flying on an airplane. I do not hesitate to ride on public transportation or visit a shopping center. In the most important job that a U.S. President has -- protecting our country from attack; keeping citizens safe -- President Bush has done a remarkable job.

Thank you, Mr. President. You have this American's gratitude.

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