Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Last year at this time...

One year ago at this time I was heading downstairs in my hotel to meet my friend Jimmy. We were having breakfast before proceeding to our classes for the day - we were at Networld+Interop in Atlanta. I was looking forward to the days' material after the first day of classes Monday. I was planning to go hit the show floor for a little while on Tuesday, see a couple of things I was interested in, and pick up tickets for the show party Wednesday night.

Class started at 8 AM. About an hour into the class, a few peoples' phones rang, and a few pagers went off. I remember thinking "boy, that's rude. My pager's set to vibrate, so should theirs' be". After about 10 minutes, someone went up and spoke to the lecturers quietly, and they made an announcement:

"I've just been told that two planes have hit the World Trade Center in New York - we're going to break early now so people can go find out what's going on if they want to".

I walked out of the classroom in the Omni Hotel and into a different world. People were milling around the Congress Center plaza on their cell phones, and all the TV sets inside that normally show closed loop TV of show blather were tuned to CNN - the CNN headquarters are right across the street. It was obvious what was going on the first time I looked at the TV.

After a few tries, I was able to contact Jane, my parents, and my office, all of whom I notified that things were fine. After the Pentagon attack became known, I decided that it would be a good idea to get out of town - I called my friend Rich (who Jimmy and I stayed with the weekend before - we played a lot of golf), and told him my thinking, and then ran into Jimmy on the plaza a few minutes later. The possibility of staying at the show didn't occur to me at all.

We did walk the show floor for about half an hour to pass time - most of the booths were closed, and I remember looking up at the ceiling a lot. We walked back to the hotel, packed our bags, and grabbed lunch while waiting for Rich to come in and pick us up. He arrived around 3, and we headed back to Alpharetta.

That evening, I cancelled Jane's flight (the national air system was closed anyway, but she had been scheduled to come down Friday for a long weekend with our friends and I), and was able to arrange a minivan rental for the following evening so we could get home. Getting home was the single most important thing I could think of. Thankfully, Jane's parents had driven up to keep her company while I was away - otherwise it would have been even more difficult for her then.

We picked up the minivan Wednesday night. Traffic was virtually nonexistent. We had to go to the airport to get it, and it was deathly quiet. The next morning, we took off for Boston.

We stuck to the back highways - travelling over the Blue Ridge Mountains to avoid DC, and after staying Thursday night with Jimmy's sister and her husband outside of Philly, we went the next day up through Allentown and far around the metro New York area.

Neither of us wanted to see the smoke plume.

We arrived back in Boston around 5 PM Friday - Jane met us, and Jimmy's car was still in the garage. I got home around 6.

Was I directly affected by what happened? No, I wasn't. Jimmy has a relative who works for TJX - she was originally supposed to be on one of the doomed flights, but they changed her plans and sent her to Toronto that day instead. That's as close as events came directly to me. I could have stayed in Atlanta, and even gone back to the show, but I thought the best thing to do was to just get home.

On the one hand, I can't help but feel like it's incredibly shallow of me to focus on my individual 9/11 experience - especially since I didn't lose a neighbor, friend, or relative. But I can't even comprehend the deliberate murder of approximately 3,000 individuals. It's beyond imagining - even a year later. The best I can do is relate how the act intersected my small, relatively insignificant life.

In the larger sense, though, I was affected profoundly. Though I don't understand the crime, I understand the reason, whatever the criminals themselves would say. Cowards attacked us and our way of life because in the end they're jealous. We're free - they aren't. We're tolerant - they're not. We're powerful - they're weak. We're large, and they, for all their bluster, are small.

And in the end, it's their bodies that will lie rotting in the hot Mideast sun, their families destroyed, and their riches dispersed. Their dream will always be the one extinguished. Because their fatal mistake is that they imagine America to be as small, narrow, and petty as they are. And that's just not the case. We have small, narrow people in this country who are similar in mindset to them. But our country itself is a far larger and greater place than they can even understand. Their small minds don't have the room to comprehend that which is America. And thus, in the end, they are doomed by their own lack of vision and thought.

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