Memories of 9/11

"Ah, we're almost half way there," I said to myself as I got up to stretch my legs on the flight from Moscow to New York on September 11, 2001. A group of us were returning from a site visit to an environmental project of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, an organization which I had founded 20 years ago.

The pilot's voice came on the air. "I wish to inform you that we are turning around due to a problem."

A problem? I am not a happy flier. I immediately thought of the worst. A mechanical problem. We might crash.

I looked at the anxious faces around me. The flight attendants conveyed no emotion. It seemed a very long three and half hours before we landed. Where would we land?

Dublin, Ireland. Well, this can't be that bad. As soon as we deboarded, the word spread down the line of puzzled passengers. All planes had been grounded. An airplane had crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was an accident. After we were bussed into town to a hotel, we turned on the TV and saw the second plane crash into the tower. The full import of a terrorist attack began to penetrate.

I wanted to go home and be with my family. I felt imprisoned by tragedy. There was no singing in Irish pubs during the three days we were there -everyone was focused on the television screen as it played and replayed the horrendous scene of the tower crumbling and bodies falling. Each day in Dublin one of us went to the airport to check on flights.

When we finally got home there was relief, but not jubilation. The United States we had returned to was different from the one we had left. Fear had spread over the whole country like the dust that had settled over lower Manhattan. A week later, I wrote in a commentary that we will measure time as -before and after 9/11. Ten years later, that observation still holds true.

The site of the destroyed Twin Towers has been cleaned up but not rebuilt, the photographs of the funerals are now in albums but not forgotten, the country has moved on, but it has not healed its wounds. In the midst of the recent earthquake, the first question was: "Is this a terrorist attack?" Fear--of the unknown and the unexpected, has penetrated our borders and refuses to leave.