Looking Back - Reluctantly

9.11 6
By Scott Cacciola

After American Airlines Flight 11 hit the first tower, I jumped in the shower. At the time, I had no way of knowing this was a terrorist attack. It looked like a tragic accident. So I set about starting my day, which was to include a trip to Harlem to cover the mayoral primary. That all changed when my roommate screamed. I could hear her from the bathroom. A second plane had hit the second tower. She was watching the events unfold on television from our apartment on the Upper West Side, and she was sobbing.

It was a horrible day. I look back on it with great reluctance, at an emotional remove, and I think I have trained myself to do this.

I was still new to the city on 11 September 2001, and I was ill-prepared to cope with something of that magnitude. That sounds foolish, right? Who was prepared for 9/11? But I had grown up in rural Vermont, and my first job out of college was at a small-town newspaper in Western Massachusetts. In other words, I had been insulated from most of the world’s harsh realities.

Many of my classmates that day rushed to the scene. Me? I wanted nothing to do with it. I spoke with my parents on the phone. I stayed in my apartment. I cried a lot. I wondered what the hell I was doing in New York. I wanted to leave, to get as far away from this smoke-filled nightmare as possible. And all of these feelings bled into guilt: What about the people who died? Their loved ones? The horrors they were dealing with — and would deal with for years to come? I did not know anyone in the towers. No one I knew died. But here I was, feeling sorry for myself. How could I be so selfish? Then again, none of it made any sense. None of it.
I sat down that afternoon and wrote an essay for my old paper in Massachusetts, The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Parts of it resonate: “It looks like nuclear winter, these images. It is more cinematic than anything else. Not like real life. Like the movies. … I am waiting for the alarm to go off so I can wake up and continue with my life. What’s next? Is it over? What am I supposed to do now? Should I try to help somehow? Should I go give blood? How long will it take the city to recover? A month? A year? Will it ever?”

As I sit here and write this, I have mixed feelings about the 10-year anniversary. It is obviously a time to remember (and celebrate) those who lost their lives, as well as an opportunity to reflect on the event’s significance and re-evaluate some of our civic priorities. For me, this seems especially important. The politicization of 9/11 led to a wasteful, wanton war and launched a particularly virulent form of jingoism—one of the unfortunate legacies of 9/11 that I hope we do not whitewash this week.

As a reporter who writes about sports, I try to pay attention to some of the ways in which sports overlaps with broader society. Just this morning, I read about the New York Jets’ plans for their season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, which falls on 11 September. The Jets plan to give an American flag to every fan who enters the stadium, and Rex Ryan, the team’s bombastic coach, said he feels incredible “pressure” to win the game for the city of New York. I will be glad to see 12 September.

 

Scott Cacciola is a sports writer for the Wall Street Journal. This article was originally written for The Uptown Chronicle.

 

11 September 2011

 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew