Without looking at my planner, I can barely recall what I was doing three days ago, never mind three years ago. But on September 11, 2001 — I do recall clearly being awoken on a morning when we had intended to sleep in, when I received a call alerting me to the fact that the World Trade Center was on fire. I do recall turning on my television to see the news while on the phone, still drowsy but curious how such an accident had happened; news reports believe it was a plane but they’re not certain.
It’s not like the WTC is hard to spot.
I remember coffee being ground and brewed while I sat up in bed watching – and it begins to dawn on me that this was unlikely to be an accident. With the amount of airspace available around the WTC at that height, the chances of missing those building was infinitely higher than actually crashing into the building, even if the pilot had gone blind.
“That can’t be an accident,” I said, “which means it has to be deliberate, but why? This is crazy!”
Some minutes later, I remember sipping on freshly brewed coffee, listening to reporters speculate whether or not this explosion was going to affect the building’s integrity. The general consensus was that this would be okay — it was going to be a tragedy with casualties, obviously, but the building would be fine. “It was built to withstand these incidents,” someone on TV said.
That’s when Flight 175 flew directly into 2 World Trade Center–and I think the entire country, as a whole, realized beyond any doubt that something horrific was happening.
We were witnessing history in the making and for the remainder of the day, as each astounding event unfolded, we realized that OUR world, as we knew it, would never be the same again.
We all know what happened after in the days and weeks to follow. To say it was mortifying and tragic doesn’t even come close to explain the incidents.
I cried and watched in awe with a heart full of gratitude and respect as firefighters and rescue workers gave it their all, and in some cases, their lives — voluntarily walking into a building that might — and would — crumble to pieces. The commitment, dedication, bravery and nobility it takes for a human being to risk their own lives in order to save others’– if that’s not heroism, I’m not sure what is.
But I know what I witnessed personally — on television watching endless coverage, and even on the streets of the suburban town of Pleasanton, CA, 3000 plus miles away from the World Trade Center, or in the aisles of a Safeway shopping center, and in the parking lots of schools. In the face of the realization that we were being attacked, “we” became unified, even if only for a short time period, where color didn’t divide us and the country, as Americans, stood together. One glance at each other and money was no object, race wasn’t an issue and gender, education, wealth, status and all the other things we so often value meant very little when we were all shaken to the core by the fact that the United States — our home — had been attacked. Granted, this temporary unification was also followed by an embarrassing and rampant display of racism and racial profiling towards anyone who looks to be from any Middle Eastern country, rooted deeply in fear but nonetheless terribly painful and real for those that continue to be singled out.
Thousands would be dead.
The debris looked like it would never be cleaned up.
The world-famous and beautiful New York City skyline was not the same. Anyone who bought a postcard at JFK the day before would easily see that today, the skyline in that photo was no longer. The buildings, the lives and an inherent sense of safety would be forever gone.
Almost ten years later, after thousands more were killed in war and trillions of dollars spent — I remember another moment. I had spent the day with good friends at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and we all went to a sports bar to munch on tacos; television screens were all over the place playing sports. Amidst eating, I looked up to see the news come on and thought my eyes were deceiving me as I read the headline, “Osama bin Laden is dead”. I double-checked and triple-checked the screen and then almost screamed at my friends, “Oh my GOD – LOOK!” while pointing at the screen as the rest of the restaurant noticed the same news alert. There was a few seconds of silence before the entire place broke into an uproar, cheering and applauding.
One man alone didn’t do this to us, and one man’s death doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. The death of one man hardly means anything, in fact — but ten years later, on the anniversary of 9/11, it does bring me some sense of justice that a ten-year war and hunt did end up killing the individual who masterminded the attack on the United States.
I’m not one to be thrilled in the death of anyone, but this one man — I’m glad he’s gone and I hope it was a miserable death.
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay”, saith the Lord.”
The above might be true but the fact of the matter is that’s in God’s sense of time.
Ten years later, to the many American lives that were lost and infinitely more that were affected from that one horrific day, we can be proud to say that while it took so damn long — we hunted down and killed the creature responsible for your deaths and your losses.
This time, right or wrong, vengeance was OURS — and I can live with that. We, as a country, promised ten years ago that we wouldn’t forget and that holds true today.
We haven’t forgotten and we never will.
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.