The Optimism of 9/11

Anyone who lived through 9/11 remembers where they were when they heard the news. I’m no exception. I was sleeping in after a fun weekend with my kids + 1. (Raised as an only child, I love it when there are extras.)

The phone rang.

My husband an I ran an aircraft maintenance shop. The future was bright and the days where full of children’s laughter.

The phone call was from a Civil Air Patrol member. His voice brought me instantly awake. Usually the most laid back customer, he said simply, “We need our plane in the air. Now.”

Normally I would have tried to calm him down, because you never push someone who is fixing something you intend to fly. But that tone in his voice was military. Commanding. Serious. Focused. Determined.

“I’ll call the shop. I’ll have them give you a status.”

He hung up without saying goodbye. The commander wasn’t being rude. He was simply on to the next task.

I dialed the shop and heard that determined focus echoed in my husband’s voice.

“Civil Air Patrol needs their plane,” I started.

“Tell them we’re almost done. We’ll have it ready.” And I knew he’d rushed the job even before the call.

“Why?” I asked in my last moment of innocence. “Why do they need it rushed? They have other planes.”

He was silent for a moment. “You haven’t heard,” his voice was almost a whisper. “There’s been an attack. News is still confused, but… It’s bad. Turn on the news. Stay home.”

A haze of dread seeped into my bones as I turned on the television and watched those horrific images along with the rest of the world.

I’d always been an optimist, but something broke in my heart that day. The kids struggled to understand. I heard the beeping of pass alarms in the background of the broadcast and my heart broke.

As the wife of a volunteer firefighter, I knew what that noise meant long before the media caught on. Firemen were trapped somewhere that rubble. A lot of them. I’m sure I cried, but most of that day fell into a blessed haze of shock.

It was a year later, watching a memorial of 9/11, when the clip was played where a journalist asked someone near him what that sound was, when my heart finally came to grips with the overpowering emotions. I ran from the room and threw up, crying in choking sobs. So many gone so suddenly.

We were at war. But perhaps not the one everyone associates with 9/11.

The War on Optimism

I’d just taken the kids on a trip to Canada a few days earlier. Such a simple trip would never again happen that easily, that spontaneously, that innocently. Borders closed, and security increased.

My 9/11 image, the one that struck me and lives on in my nightmares did not happen until weeks later.

You see, 9/11 shut down our airport, cutting the foundation out of our business. All around us was silence. That CAP plane stayed on the ground with all the others at our airport for months as the government decided if it was safe to allow planes in the air so close to Seattle.

I was at work in the eerie quiet that should never be heard on an airport, when a low drone began in the distance, slowly growing closer. The noise grew and what passed for work stopped. We walked out onto the ramp and looked up. The air was vibrating.

A flight of maybe a dozen military transport planes flew overhead, low and slow. It was a terrifying sight. I’ve worked on a military base, but I’d never seen more than one of those mighty aircraft at a time before that moment or since.

And I knew, we were at war.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Flash Forward

It’s been 15 years. Before 9/11, I didn’t let my boys play with guns. After 9/11, we made sure they knew how to shoot. I’ve watched one son take his oath into the military. I’ll watch another soon. I’m proud of the way they’ve grown up: serious, focused, determined.

The shop did not survive 9/11, although it took a few years for us to surrender. Like the twin towers, it took a while for the terrible reality of the structural damage to be seen.

We lost almost everything.

Before 9/11, I lived in a world of optimism. The future seemed bright. And then in an instant everything turned dark, the future hazy and ominous.

Now we live in a world of danger. People thrive on dystopian fiction. Terror attacks are common. Young people scoff at how naive we were back then.

Lately I’ve been searching for the optimism that I misplaced that day 15 years ago. I want it back.

We’ve rebuilt our lives.

Anyone who knows me knows the last few years have been particularly hard. And yet, the future begins to seem bright again. The smoke is clearing.

Finally, I find my heart being restored. I’m still serious, focused, determined. But maybe there is just a hint of optimism in the air.

World Trade Center

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  1. I remember the world as it was and see what it has become. I’m an optimist at heart, but a realist beneath it all. I read this and my heart ached, because it’s so true and yet I find it very hard to look at the world optimistically, even though I haven’t given up trying. Beautifully put.

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