September 11 was the birthdate of at least three of our staffers. The cake was waiting, but it, along with everything else- was abandoned when the Governor decided to close our offices and send us home. I was holding the state seal in a conference room we were clearing out for renovation when we got the news: Go home. Now.
I remember how clear and achingly beautiful -and silent- the skies were- until the jet fighters flew over. It was strange to see a military formation of aircraft circling our city, while a long queue of commercial planes lined up to land at our airport. We counted 26 planes parked on the parallel runway, and people drove by the airport to pick up stranded strangers and offer them a bed for the night, since our hotels were full up. Hey, we had a reputation for Southern Hospitality to maintain.
I think that the thing I remembered the most- and what sticks to me this day- is that September 10 was the last day of Old America. Remember Old America? It had its problems, and a bumbling, somewhat clueless and vacation-happy new president, but we had our freedoms, rights, and hopes. We were in Old America, a good place to be, especially if you were rich.
The door slammed shut on all that on September 11. It was the First Day of New America, the land of the fearful, and the home of the bravado- a country reacting in anger, and following a leadership which deliberately redirected our ire and the good will of the rest of the planet into the quagmire we’re in today.
We lost much more than some buildings and people that day. We lost many of our freedoms. We lost our abililty to protest, to speak back, to use rational means to debate. We lost our right to debate. We lost our rights. We’re in a constant state of low-level fear- ‘condition yellow’. ‘Condition orange’. Condition green is a distant dream.
This wasn’t my first brush with terrorism. I lost several friends who were aboard Pan-Am Flight 103 when it was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. I remember how kind the folks of that town were to me when I visited it in 1990- 2 years after the tragedy. I remember how strange it was to see the four names on the memorial plaque of people I knew- people I’d worked with. I remember helping to supervise the packing out of their home in Germany. The landlady could not stop crying.
There is nothing more haunting than a home whose occupants will never return.
And I wonder- will our spirit return? Or will we be slowly crushed into oblivion by people who use events like 9/11 to keep the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt running high? Will our readiness posture ever be ‘green’ again? We were once ever-green. I sincerely hope that we’ll be so again.