Carnes: It was 20 years ago today
There was no Sgt. Pepper teaching the band to play and, actually, it was not today but will be this coming Saturday, yet that takes no less meaning from the two-decade anniversary of the most tragic day in American history in my lifetime.
In one of those “Do you remember where you were when…” questions, I know I’ll never forget that morning.
Ted Koppel was promoting an upcoming story on the Congo when Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson of “Good Morning America” interrupted with breaking news, which instantly etched the term “breaking news” into my collective psyche from that point forward.
Live footage minutes before 7 a.m. (mountain time) showed one of the Trade Center towers with a huge gash on the north side, smoke pouring out and enveloping the top like a horrifying cloud of terror and confusion. Gibson made a brief reference to an attempted terrorist attack on the building a few years prior, but stressed they had no idea what was actually happening at the moment other than the building was on fire and an unconfirmed report that it might have been struck by an airplane.
I was sitting on the couch at our old house in Edwards, holding our 2-year-old, drinking coffee and contemplating how people would react to my column in that day’s Vail Daily. It was a fictional piece imagining a hitchhiker arriving in Vail with little more than the shirt on his back. First stop was City Market, where he purchased a lottery ticket and promptly won a million dollars, followed by the highs and lows he would experience over the next year before, with little more than the same shirt on his back, he stood out along I-70 with his thumb pointed west, leaving pretty much the same as he arrived.
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It was funny, yet poignant and was probably read that day by no one other than the copy editor — deservedly so.
Ten minutes in, Gibson and Sawyer were discussing the possibility that it might have indeed been an aircraft, when suddenly I watched as the right side of the live video showed a jetliner disappearing behind the tower in view followed by a fireball exploding out from what I could only assume was the second tower.
I distinctly remember standing up and shouting, “NO!!!” as the question about what was truly happening was immediately answered.
Luckily I had just put the baby down on the couch.
Mesmerized and unable to look away from the TV, a short time later another plane hit the Pentagon, and eventually word arrived about Flight 93 careening into a Pennsylvania field.
Within an hour, all airports nationwide were shut down, and then the next unthinkable thing happened as one of the towers completely collapsed.
This time I screamed.
A few minutes later, the second tower collapsed, and by that time I was numb, no emotion at all, no tears, no screams, just pure unadulterated shock.
I’d never felt so helpless in my entire life.
Reliving the memory of that morning, I watched as the world around us changed forever, but Peter Jennings’ smooth and calm reporting somehow made it bearable to listen, although part of me wanted to do nothing more than turn away and crawl into the closest hole I could find, family in tow.
While those directly responsible eventually received what they deserved, the ideology behind the tragedy is still alive and well, and though more Americans have died as a direct result of the coordinated vengeance than perished that very day, the dogmatic blood thirst for more has never been quenched, nor do I suspect it ever will.
Suffice it to say that in spite of these sideshow carnivals of ancient belief systems and their fear-mongering nonsense about magical life after death, 20 years later everything that was good in this world is still good, everything that was crappy is still crappy, and the rational among us will never stop trying to make the world a better place.
Sadly, innocents will continue to perish in the meantime.
Richard Carnes, of Avon, writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.