That Tuesday morning in 2001, I dressed for my school’s first day of classes. Good Morning America aired on the bedroom TV nearby, but I wasn’t tuned in to Charles Gibson. Rather, I focused on reviewing my lesson plans and checking off the mental list of preparations necessary for a successful start of the school year.
At 8:59, the television’s abrupt silence caught my attention. Wondering if the power had failed, I turned from the bathroom mirror toward the screen to witness a rare occurrence: a confused, mute host of a popular, upbeat morning show. Gibson’s too-calm demeanor belied a palpable tension. For a moment, he shuffled the papers on his desk and manipulated his earpiece. I expected the “Breaking News” warning to flash like it had in November 1963, the day of JFK’s assassination…another unforgettable moment in history–the kind of day when you recall where you were, what you were doing, and exactly how you felt.
The difference was that, nearly sixty years before, I had been sitting in my eighth grade math class when the announcement came over the loudspeaker, unable to watch Walter Cronkite’s profound reaction to breaking news until later that evening. Like every family in America, my family gathered around our black-and-white TV until bedtime when we lay awake wondering if the world was ending.
Precisely at 9:00 am, a plane headed straight for one of the Twin Towers in New York City not far from Times Square where Charles Gibson sat in his GMA studio. A sickening explosion followed. Somehow, an eyewitness had caught the exact moment of impact. It was happening in real time. Gibson could only try to make sense of what his audience was already seeing. Was it a tragic accident? What actually was happening? Wait! Wasn’t that an American Airlines plane? When a second plane crashed into the South Tower, we knew. Every viewer had caught the indelible image, and fear engulfed a nation.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
Just as Gibson began to make sense of the unfolding event, sorting the jumbled messages that surely deluged his earpiece, he learned of a plane crash in Pennsylvania and another plane crashing into the Pentagon. Could they be related? Had war reached our shore? Surely not. This is America, after all–“land of the free and home of the brave.” Wars happen in faraway places, not here.
Within moments, President Bush had grounded every American airplane and put the U.S. military on high alert. Eyewitness reports, including photographs and videos taken by reporters and ordinary citizens, alike, flooded news stations. They were surreal; they were grim.
It was just the beginning.
I sank to the bed, paralysis gripping me. Yet I knew I had to go to work. Teachers, parents and children would converge on the school at 9:30. Children needing reassurance would ask questions I couldn’t answer. I had a ten-minute drive in which to prepare.
On September 20th, 2001, President George W. Bush declared that the United States of America was at war. Life would never be the same.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available at amazon.com or hightidepublications.com
Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.