I was in three states that morning…and for the next few days, and the states weren’t New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Denial. Dazed. Confused.
That morning, I had tunnel vision as I was the editor of a (now defunct) weekly newspaper in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, almost 200 miles to the east of Shanksville and I had a put paper to “put out” with our deadline that day, I believe. My memory, unlike those who can remember exactly where they were when it happened, is still a little hazy like smoke signals that haven’t quite reached me yet. I was in the midst of another story when our administrative assistant Micki and a coworker Jennifer broke in to tell me that a plane had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At that point, I thought it was a freak accident.
Even when Micki told me about 20 minutes later that another plane had struck the center’s South Tower, I still thought in my constricted view of being on a deadline that it must be a freak accident. I believe Micki might have mentioned the possibility of a terrorist attack, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around what I thought was an impossibility at that time. The axons weren’t firing on all cylinders.
I don’t think we had a television at our office, but we did have radio and maybe for me, it was akin to the opposite of folks first hearing Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds. I didn’t think it was real. This must be a radio drama…even after seeing the video hours later when I got home, I wondered in a nonconspirational way, not thinking of the moon landing, if the images were being digitally manipulated. That’s how entrenched I was in the states of mind I was living that day and for at least a few days after that.
Naturally we adjusted our deadline for the paper that day to get some reactions from people on the street to what was happening. Like us, they were confused and didn’t know what was going on. It all seemed unreal…or hyper-real, one of those moments where everything is all too real and your mind — at least my mind did that day entered– just enters those three states of denial, dazed and confused. I’m not sure how quite else to describe it, other than maybe it’s like you’re playing a video game — on crack…or how I imagine it would be: what’s real, what’s not, all blurring together into one montage.
I don’t know when I came out of the three states, but I do know two of the things that helped me come back to reality, of all things, were America: A Tribute to Heroes and The Concert for NYC that aired later that month and the next month on TV. Neither show was perfect, but each had their moments that, I believe, assisted in the grieving and remembering process of a nation. I’ll end by sharing just two of those moments via YouTube; one from U2, which at the time made me wipe more than one tear from my eye(s)– and still does; the other from, of all people, Kevin Smith, but which at the time made me smile…and still does make me smile.