Originally Published: September 18, 2001 7 p.m.
We hear that a plane has hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. We turn on television to find the upper floors of the building enveloped in fire and dense smoke. We watch a second plane crash through the other tower; in a matter of minutes, we witness their collapse.
We can hardly believe our eyes as people run through the streets to escape the enormous dark cloud that threatens to overtake them and turn their day into night. We learn that another plane has hit the Pentagon. There is fire there also. Quickly they tell us a fourth plane has crashed in Pennsylvania. "What more?" we ask ourselves.
Then come the tears as the enormity of this dreadful reality sinks in. Around 48,000 people worked in those towers. How many made it out? How many people lost their lives in the Pentagon? We learn the number of passengers and crew on the airplanes. The toll begins to overwhelm us. "Please," we pray, "let us learn that thousands were able to run down the stairs to safety." But we doubt that many had time to escape.
Soon, anger joins the sadness.
Who did it? Who could commit this unspeakable act? We seek direction for our anger. We want a target.
Within hours pride joins the sadness and anger. Authentic heroes emerge. Firemen and police, we learn, had entered the towers before they collapsed to help those within hurry to safety. Many were trapped when the buildings imploded. Others were digging in the debris of the first building when the second came down on them. Estimates of their deaths again brought tears – but pride in their selflessness as well. To give one's life for another is the truest mark of heroism.
In time, we will have memories. We'll remember Sept. 11, just as many of us remember Pearl Harbor – where we were and what we felt when we heard the news.
And finally, we will remember some of the stories that even now are beginning to emerge. We are unlikely to forget the CEO of a brokerage firm with offices on the 101st to the 105th floors who was late to work because he accompanied his small son to his first day of kindergarten. He stood outside his tower before it collapsed asking those who ran by what floor they worked on. The highest reported was 91. Seven hundred of the company's 1,000 employees are still unaccounted for. There was the passenger on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania who told his wife from his cell phone, after learning that two planes had crashed into the towers, "I know we're all going to die. There are three of us who are going to do something about it." The probability is that by diverting the plane from its planned objective, they saved untold lives.
I am writing this on Sept. 14, a national day of prayer and remembrance. My prayer looks backward to the last several days and forward to the next few critical days, weeks and months.
People are emphasizing the words "retribution" and "retaliation." (They studiously avoid the word "revenge.") Our leaders have promised action. While I believe that an appropriate response is necessary, I hope that we find no joy or pleasure in whatever "retaliation" takes place. The taking of life – as we have sadly learned again this week – is not a cause for celebration.
(Ron Barnes is a longtime Prescott resident and a semi-retired educator and businessman.)