Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years later

By the time most people have read this blog post they may well be tired or done with reading or see things about September 11. Which might seem impossible to some, but it happens. Time and overwhelming media saturation can have that effect. I guarantee you, more than one person today will turn off the TV upon seeing one more story about the day. More than one person will skip on through the post, having had enough of it all.

Fair enough.

But this blog has always been first and foremost about me. About trying to get thoughts straight in my head, in trying to figure out the whole writing process. About amusing or entertaining myself. Because if you're writing and you aren't trying to do some of these things, then you might as well not be doing it.

And September 11, was a weird, surreal day for me. It was for most who lived and experienced it. But I was a reporter, trying to cover one tiny sliver of the story and feeling more over my head as a reporter that day than any other day in my life, before or after.

Here's one of the truths for most people on that day. They were watching the TV and saw the news break. Or they got a call from a friend or family member and flicked on the television. Perhaps they went home and with a loved one tried to make sense of what they were seeing. They watched it live on TV.

That never happened with me. I honestly never saw any of the images of the World Trade Centre, of the Pentagon or even the wreckage in Pennsylvania , until I got home that night around 9 p.m. That's when I finally got an idea of what it was I had been covering all day. That's when it hit.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. For The Express it was also a deadline day, when we cue up the stories we've been working on all week, lay them out on the page and get them to press. It's a hectic day on the best of circumstances. Then we got a call from one of our columnists about planes crashing into the World Trade Center. We thought she was kidding. Then we flicked on the radio and learned otherwise. Attempts to get more information online were futile as, if you recall, the Internet practically locked up from the number of people going online trying to find information and learn what was going on. The Express also didn't have a TV, so we couldn't watch what was happening.

I had been with The Express for exactly one week. The previous three years had been with The Packet in Clarenville. I was used to covering small, community stories. I disliked covering even car accidents, feeling it was intrusive to families dealing with a terrible situation and I wasn't making things any easier for them.

Now imagine being called into your editor's office and being told that I was it. The planes were diverted and they were coming to Newfoundland . We were on deadline, get as much as you can and we'll try and hold the press a bit for you, but you've got about six hours on this.

It was terrifying. Some reporters love this kind of story. Indeed, I saw more than one that day - obviously scared by what was happening, but also thrilled to be covering what they knew was going to be the biggest story in years. Perhaps it's the wrong reaction. Perhaps it says something about me as a reporter, but I desperately wished someone else could do it. But no one else had the time. So I sucked it up and did my job.

I honestly don't recall most of the day. I was at the airport when the planes were coming in. There was lots of driving and talking to people and frantic writing. I can't recall what I wrote or if it was any good. By the time I got out of the office I went and got some takeout, sat down and decompressed for about 30 minutes while eating a burger, and then went home.

And that's when I finally got to see what was happening. All day I had been talking to people about it or hearing about it on the radio. But that was the first time I got to see what had actually happened.

I think I was too numb to really feel anything. Some wept. Some were angry. At that point I was too exhausted and numb to feel anything. And I know I had colleagues in other media that had longer days and went through more than I did. I can only imagine what it was like for them.

I only knew two people in the New York area, both ex's, oddly enough. A med student I dated briefly was working at one of the hospitals that expected to be overwhelmed with casualties. She told me her most heartbreaking moment was when none came and they realized why.

Kirsten was also there and write about it here. We also later interviewed her for The Express and put her on the cover. Both, thankfully, we're okay.

I think the one thing I hoped for, and I've seen in a lot in the personal commentaries and stories I've read today, was the hope that something good might come out of this. It's hard to believe or even remember now, the outpouring of grief, shock and rage from the other countries in the world. The willingness to assist the United States in whatever they needed to do to make sure this didn't happen again. The U.S. had a vast well to tap if they wanted.

There was that hope. That perhaps out of something so horrific that something good and positive might come from it. That from ashes might come something stronger.

That never happened. That well was squandered and people grow more frustrated with the U.S. all the time. Which is the great tragedy of September 11. After the sorrow and pain and fear, the potential was there to build something better. That the United States, which is great, but could be so much more than what it is, could have become something truly wondrous in the aftermath. The world really could have been a better place.

If only the right leaders had been thereƂ….

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