# Thursday, 11 September 2008

I was working at a large utility company in downtown Cincinnati on the morning of September 11 2001.  I had only been at my desk an hour when I heard the rumors: someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center.  I checked CNN.com but was unable to access its site.  Every news site I tried reported that their server was too busy to respond. 

Instant messages began to trickle in.  Co-workers relayed phone calls from their families.  The office was filled with rumors: a second plane had hit the other tower; one tower had collapsed; another tower had collapsed; the Pentagon was hit; the White House was hit.  It became difficult to separate truth from fiction.  It became nearly impossible to focus on work.  Eventually someone wheeled a TV up to our floor and we were able to watch live reports and hear the news with at least some credibility.

If an enemy attacks the US, Cincinnati could be considered a likely target - many federal government offices, including the IRS and Court of Appeals are there; Procter & Gamble, one of the world's largest companies is headquartered there; and a nuclear power plant sits a few miles west of the city.
 
The department manager walked through our floor around 10AM to announce that management had considered the issue and decided all employees should remain at work.  A half hour later, he returned and informed us that they had changed their mind - the building was closing and all employees were to go home. 

I was one of the last to leave the building because I told a friend that I would drive him home if he couldn't find a ride from someone who lived near him (By that time, the buses were not running)  He found a ride from someone else, but by the time he told me, the building was nearly empty.

When I walked outside, it was nearly midday but the city was eerily quiet.  There were no cars, no buses and no people.  No boats sailed on the Ohio River that morning.  From horizon to horizon, no airplanes appeared in the sky.  Even the birds were gone.

In those days, I used to park about a mile from my office and I didn’t see a soul on my walk.  It could have been 3AM Sunday except for the sun burning overhead.  I was reminded of movies in which the protagonist awakes and goes outside to discover he is the only living man left in the world. 

I drove straight to the school where my two sons (1st and 5th grade) were enrolled.  I walked to one boy's classroom and stood at the window and watched him silently.  I'm not sure how long I stood there but the bell eventually rang and I stopped him as he exited for his next class and chatted for a few minutes, telling him nothing about the attack.  I told him I loved him.  Then I walked to my other son's classroom and did the exact same thing.  I spoke to my wife, who worked at the school.  We had little to say to each other.  School was not dismissed early that day and I left before the boys did.

On the way home, I stopped at a coffee house and sat, numb thinking of the day's events.  I knew thousands had died in New York, but I didn't know what it meant to the rest of us.  I didn't know what would happen in the coming weeks and months.  Were we at war?  Would we be attacked again soon - closer to home this time? 

I once read that everyone in America remembered where they were when they heard about John F Kennedy's assassination.  I was a year old in 1963 and wasn't aware of it until years later.  But I believe the same can be said of September 11.  It is our generation's Kennedy.  I haven't met anyone above the age of 20 who doesn't remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the World Trade Center Attack. 

It turned out that the outward changes in our lives were minimal - no further attacks of this magnitude were carried out and no terrorists came near Cincinnati.  But I think we were all changed that day. 

But our attitudes changed that day.  As a country, we became more vigilant and more suspicious.  Security tightened noticeably in public places and most people did not complain about the inconvenience.  People now have a greater appreciation of the risks taken by firefighters, policemen and soldiers as they carry out their duties.  Most of us take our safety less for granted than we did before.

Our lives were instantly separated into the time before September 11 and the time after.  Seven years ago, we didn't how - but we knew that things had changed.

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