9-11 Redux

Today is the 11th anniversary of the attacks in 2001 that killed more than three thousand people in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. Though we are now past the pivotal 10th anniversary, the annual observance remains painful.

People cope in their own way. Many attend memorial services. Some go to concerts featuring patriotic music and proud statements honoring brave first responders. Others perform acts of community service. Some try not to think about it too much.

I think of all these responses as human and legitimate.

My eye was caught the other day by MSNBC’s special “9-11 As it Happened,” where the cable network re-runs NBC’s coverage of the attacks minute-by-minute just as events unfolded. I saw only a portion, but was surprised at its power. Shocked and disheartened all over again, I wondered why anyone would sit there and intentionally re-live the experience. Especially since we all know the terrible ending.

Adding to the eeriness of the scene was the fact that I saw this play out while walking on a treadmill at an athletic club. MSNBC was displayed on just one of a series of screens. Right next to 9-11, the Green Bay Packers were struggling in the early going against the San Francisco 49′ers. I shifted my gaze back and forth from massive deadly violence against unsuspecting civilians to violence-for-fun-and-profit between rich men in costumes. Which channel to watch? It wasn’t a hard decision to make, but it was a tough choice to keep.

Had I been at home I would have changed the channel or turned off the TV. Committed to the treadmill for another 20 minutes, I told my eyes to behave. I had decided to live in the present moment, but the 9-11 replay was impossible to ignore. My gaze kept shifting back to it even though the I was trying to care that the Packers couldn’t mount a running game. Football never seemed more trivial.

We like to say we will never forget, and I’m sure for many that is absolutely true. But feeling what it was like to REALLY remember that day by seeing it play out in front of me again, I realized how much of it I have, out of necessity, pushed aside and watered down. In a society where so many of our games and entertainments depend on our blithe acceptance of scripted or controlled mayhem, it’s instructive to be reminded of how it drains the heart and wounds the soul to truly witness a genuine tragedy.

What do you do with 9-11? Observe it or avoid it?

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48 thoughts on “9-11 Redux”

  1. What a thought-provoking entry, Dale. Since I’m still up this late, I’ll offer my response before retiring. I, too, watch the entire drama every year. It feels like a compulsion in a way – it also feels like a precious pause in the early fall to re-experience both the terror and the awe of witnessing such a horrific event. I recall wondering how it was that many thousands more weren’t killed. I happened to be at Sears shopping when I noticed many people gathered around the electronics department watching TVs. Someone said that, on a normal day, there were usually at least 10,000 humans in each of those two buildings. When the final tally was under 3,000, I was relieved and surprised.

    No matter how many times we’ve relived that day, it still feels so surreal. Watching it again, it still feels like a horror movie, and not one very well-produced. The heroes weren’t supposed to die. The miracle of finding more victims alive was supposed to lift our spirits. The messiness in this movie went on far too long but we weren’t supposed to recover so quickly. The relatively quick clean-up, the building of new structures, the DOW bouncing back as soon as it did; none of this fit a well-developed movie script. Even today, it seems like life got back to “normal” far too easily, but for those who were there or who lost loved ones, life will never be normal again. And who do we
    hate or what do we do to metabolize something of this magnitude???? The unthinkable was on televisions in every home across America and no one could escape the vision of death occurring right before our own eyes.

    And so, tomorrow will be the 11th. time to allow the visions to trigger another wave of collective and personal grief. Perhaps each time we weep over this tragedy, we heal a little more?

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  2. Today is my daughter’s birthday. All two of my children are in their 40′s. It is also my daughter’s 13th wedding anniversary.
    I personally, very personally, have never watched the images of the towers coming down. It takes an effort to avoid it, such as not watching TV all day today, except I must watch the Twins tonight in case my daughter or son-in-law gets hit by a foul ball as my niece did on TV last Friday. It is daughter and s-i-l’s celebration of their day. But in honor of 9-11 she is doing for her birthday an online collection for the shepherd project, aiming to supply a “village’s” supply of animals.
    My son will spend the day choosing between a new job in Seattle and going back to the job he lost two weeks ago in San Jose when it was closed but will now be reopened under new perhaps tenuous ownership.
    I will spend the day helping my wife fight off her daily severe headache. But I will also dwell on what I wrote here:
    http://birchwoodhill.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/this-land-is-their-land/

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    1. nice to have you back clyde,
      i am glad to hear your son has choice. how nice
      hapy brthday and happy anniversary to your daugheter, i hope the twins game is enjoyable on this beautiful evening. sorry to hear your neice got hit. thanks for the link to your blog entry and the references to the questions raised about what makes the human heart tick or stop ticking. great way to connect with the tragedy of the day.

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  3. It isn’t wise to obsess on past tragedies. We need to know them and understand them, but at some point it becomes counterproductive to dwell on them. I think it is particularly corrosive to the human spirit to dwell on past injustices done to us. That distorts our sense of history and fosters a sense of victimhood. We need to keep in mind the past injustices we have done to others. such as dropping two atomic bombs on thousands of mostly innocent Japanese civilians.

    And yet there is something positive we can do with 9-11, namely to confront the troublesome issue of “why they hate us.” George Bush took one shot at that question and came up with “they hate our freedoms,” which ranks high among the most embarrassingly stupid things he ever said. Right wing analysts hate it when anyone tries to understand the reasons the US is hated so much by so many people; they call this “blaming ourselves for crimes others have done to us.” But all nations should try to understand what other peoples think of them and why.

    No analysis of 9-11 would conclude that Osama bin Laden was right to kill innocent US civilians, but it is terribly important that we realize there was nothing “crazy” about his motivations. He hated us because he hated decades of US foreign policy toward the Middle East, plus he particularly hated us for economic and cultural imperialism. Bin Laden saw the US as a corrupting force destroying Islamic culture with our bikinis, alcohol, Levis and permissiveness. The US was a real threat to his values, not to mention our support for Israel and our backing of vile Middle Eastern dictatorships all over the Middle East.

    There is an intelligent short discussion of this: http://consortiumnews.com/2011/09/15/answering-why-do-they-hate-us/

    What I’ll try to do this 9-11 is to reflect on the heavy-handed impact of my country on so many distant lands.

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    1. I’m always very cautious when the subject of 9-11 comes up, because I’m expected to have been shocked and horrified. Of course I’m always horrified by violence and loss of life, but shocked? Not in the least. I remembered the previous WTC and Oklahoma City bombings and had just assumed that the US would experience an attack sooner or later. Considering how many regimes we’ve changed (including some that had been democratically elected) because we didn’t like their attitude or wanted greater access to their resources, not to mention escalating tensions over Israel, it was only a matter of time before the violence happening everywhere else in the world made its way here. Mainly what I was appalled by was the naivete of Americans who kept asking, “How could this possibly happen here?”, as if “Fortress America” was a fact of physics instead of a comforting myth.

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      1. I have thoughts similar to yours, Crow Girl, regarding 9-11. American foreign policy is just leads to more problems in the world and is not what it should be. I wouldn’t say that 9-11 is not necessarily directly related to our for policies, but some these policies do give fuel to the people who plan this sort of thing. I would say that there is a big need to change our policies if we want to live in a peaceful world.

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      2. I think you are dead on, CG. I think we still cling to the myth that terrorism doesn’t happen to the myth that terrorism can’t and doesn’t happen here. We call horrific events like this summer’s shooting in Colorado the work of mad men or the psychotic, not the work of someone as disenfranchised by our culture, system and politics as those outside our borders. How we use language and how we frame these events matters a lot, more than some may think.

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      3. Thanks, Crow Girl and Steve. I’m glad you said what you did.

        I don’t make it a point to “remember” 9-11, not to minimize how terrible it was, but I’m not happy with how many American have made this a – or THE – turning point in world history. There have been similar, terrible events all over the world, for as long as the world has been in existence I suppose, but many that are within recent memory (by which I mean there are people alive today that remember them or remember their grandparents telling about it…) so how can this one terrible event eclipse all other terrible events all over the world?

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      4. I had a similar response – I was shocked by the scale of the attack, but not by the fact of the attack, which seemed to me nearly inevitable.
        I mostly recall feeling out of step with the country in the next few weeks, when it seemed the only accepted response was to go to church or wave a flag. And then there was the security hysteria that followed – one writer, I’m sorry I can’t remember who, said that America’s false sense of security had been replaced by an equally false sense of total vulnerability. Calm, reasonable voices were few. I’m glad that time passed, although scars remain from it.

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    2. I so agree with your assessment & comments. I’ve thought since Day One that the US was unintentionally complicit in creating the conditions under which something this catastrophic could happen. To hold such a nuanced view, however, is largely considered heresy, so I’ve chosen to hold this opinion to myself for the most part.

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  4. Like Clyde, I also have never watched the images of the towers coming down. I also do not plan to make a special effort to watch TV today. September 10 is our wedding anniversary, so I never can be too sorrowful this time of year. I suppose I just avoid 9-11. I tell parents that allowing their young children to play violent video games traumatizes and re-traumatizes the children each time they shoot an opponent on the screen. I think it is the same thing watching the towers come down. We have other things to do to make this a better world, and repetitively watching those buildings collapse distracts us from doing that.

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  5. I have a very clear memory of being in my car, on my way to work, and hearing Dale read a report that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. “Weird,” I thought – in my head I pictured the plane as a small engine plane, maybe a single, very confused, pilot in the plane – not a big jet full of innocents. In the 3 minutes between that report and work it became more clear. We didn’t have a TV at work, and although there was a small one at the deli across the way, I didn’t watch much that day. I listened to the surreal story unfold on the radio, which in its own way was a blessing. I recall worrying and making calls to family and friends to ensure that cousins and a best friend from high school were okay (none of them worked in the towers, but all worked near it in Manhattan). While I do not commemorate the day in any way, I do pay attention to how that day changed my world and how I and my politicians interact with it.

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    1. To be clear – it was a blessing to only hear about the unfolding story and not watch it live. I was glad in a way not to see too many images – those came soon enough.

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    2. I had a similar experience to yours. I heard Dale make the quick announcement but then I had to run off to a meeting. So I was thinking the same “some small plane, poor pilot had heart attack”, something along that vein. By the time my meeting was over, the whole story was unfolding. I had had NN.com up at my desk before I left for the meeting, but due to the huge numbers of people trying to get online, nobody else around me could get a connection. So the next hour was spent with 25 people crowded into my cube watching the new online.

      I tend to agree with Steve that if we dwell too much on past tragedies, we often unwittingly cast ourselves back into the role of victim – not usually a place of strength or wisdom.

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  6. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I have a few memories I run through because I like to give this day it’s due. After all it was a significant shift in our world and our American self-image. As that day began I was listening to TLGMS as usual, then heard Dale say, “There is a news report here that a plane has hit the WTC.” This promoted me to turn on the TV where I saw the whole thing go down. When I arrived at work there was a TV set up where the staff gathered. We watched the reports of the PA plane. As we watched Pres Bush disappear, somebody in the room said, “I wish we had a real president.”

    Yeh, really that would have been helpful.

    Each year I say a short prayer for all those who died and those left behind to cope. Then I move. Life is for the living. But the dead deserve to be remembered.

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  7. Good morning. 9-11 is just one of many horrible things that have happened during my life time. It is a particularly dramatic one. I am always thinking about what I should do in response to all of these bad things that keep happening. I think we are coming to a time when we can no longer avoid the need to do more to make the world a better place and I still hope this is possible.

    Regarding 9-11, I am reminded of what I was told by an Azeri man when I visited Azerbaijan as an agricultural volunteer. This man was invited to a dinner given for me by my Azeri hosts because he wanted to tell me something. He said that the people of Azerbaijan were very socked by what happen on 9-11. I think he wanted me to know that he and other muslim people in Azerbaijan, where almost everyone is muslim, are peace loving people and not in any way like the terrorists that were involved in the 9-11 attack.

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  8. i was so taken by surprise by 911 that at the time i stood mouth agape and thought about it in terms of how i was affected personally. it raised hell with my business, made it difficult for me to get the guy form indonesia into the country from canada where his plane got set down on his way to an appointment we had. i lost momentum on a project that had been launched on 9 01 01 and it was eerie how quiet it was with the empty sky and how i felt the world had changed right before me in the blink of an eye and would never return to the innocent place it was before.

    i was asleep on my moms couch in the midst of a move when she woke me and told me there was something on tv i should be aware of. the first plane had hit and as i stood and shook the cobwebs out the second plane hit and so did the realization that this was life changing.

    well here we are 11 years later, with w come and gone and obama in the wake of the series of events that led bush to make america uglier because of the time he was given to set up his agenda after riding the usa at all costs to the hilt and out onto the street. the world 11 years after the fact is a different place. i am a different guy and the circumstances that surround me us the world have changed dramatically.

    when i was a kid i remember thinking ww2 was way back in the olden days a long long time ago. the war ended 12 years before i was born and the dads in the neighborhood all had grown up with the same type of recollection of pearl harbor and hiroshima that we have of the towers. a picture burned in the memory bank forever.

    i will be getting ready for a big day tomorrow with appointments and a drive to grand rapids michigan for a big deal appointment thursday morning followed by another thursday afternoon and a third of friday followed by a fourth and a long drive back to get at the job jar as the outdoor opportunities dwindle to a precious few.

    as i look at my life from age 57 i feel like my life is the job jar and the opportunities are like the fall afternoons, perfect and under appreciated. sometimes i think i owe 9.11 a bit of thanks for adding a pause in the page turning calendar of life to make me realize there are things of importance out there and we need to notice and savor them while we are here.

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  9. Morning–
    (Apologies if I’ve told this before.)

    In 2001 I was Chairman of our townboard for the first time. Over that summer, the local Mosque in Rochester had purchased some property in our township and in August had come to the townboard requesting permission to build a mosque out there. It is an allowed use but it requires some special conditions regarding parking, signage, noise, ect.
    The neighbors were not very happy about it and it was a contentious public hearing for our normally unattended month meetings.
    The second public hearing was September 19 of 2001. The place was packed and we had sheriff deputies on hand just in case.
    The 4 representatives of the local mosque certainly must have felt they were walking into the lions den. And of course, not all the neighbors were against it. There was support for it, but those against always seem to be more vocal.
    And then there was the neighbor who stuffed mailboxes with paper stating “Muslims hate America. They think we are Satin”. Yes, Satin. I. Am. Soft shiny fabric.
    The mosque was allowed but they had lost so much financial support after 9/11 and so many of their group had moved away that the second building wasn’t needed and never built.
    (Those four spokesmen? When everything had settled, they invited the entire townboard plus families and spouses to their homes for supper.)

    I was raking hay that day. Our 9 yr old son was home sick and he walked up the road to tell me a friend of ours in NYC had called to tell us she was OK. I had only heard snippets to that point.
    I don’t wish to watch it again.

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    1. thanks ben, apropriate timing of the retelling. good story. i would like no one better than you as the chairman of my town board. nice to see how you respond to a challange when called on huh? sounds like you responded perfectly.

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  10. September 11, 2001 was the day (in retrospect) that I became “politically active.” I put that in quotes because the term means different things to different people. I watched the whole thing starting minutes after I read an online headline stating that a plane had hit one of the WTC towers. Like most, I thought it was a small private plane such as a Cessna that lost control and bounced off the tower. Then I read a few more reports, discovered it was a 747 (or whatever) and turned on the TV. I couldn’t NOT watch all day. I felt I was watching a slow motion nightmare play out.

    I determined from that moment that there is something fundamentally wrong with a government that invites such a desperate attack from a small subculture of a religion that is so fed up with, so disgusted by, so antagonized by, so insulted by, so ignored and disrespected by, our government that they felt the only way to send their message of “”LEAVE US THE HELL ALONE” was to sacrifice their lives and the lives of innocent citizens in the most spectacular (not in a positive way) political protest gesture ever witnessed in human history.

    I fault equally the Democrats and the Republicans, going back for at least 100 years to when we incorporated individual income taxes and the Federal Reserve into our socio-political system for the sole purpose of empire building and eventually perpetual warfare of one kind or the other (drugs, poverty, despots, dictators, anyone who doesn’t kowtow to the USA).

    My political activism is limited to donations, letter and email writing and quiet, persuasive discussions with friends and family about why I am a Libertarian. The overriding reason is that I am a Consciencous Objector (since 1974 when I had to register for the draft) and believe with all my being that war waged by government or religious groups of any sort is never noble, never patriotic, never justified, and never achieves the desired result of the warring parties.

    I was going to continue with a rant about war but this post is too long already and I don’t want to further antagonize anyone who disagrees with me (which is most people, I presume, since I’m in a minscule minority, politics-wise.) :-)

    I’ll just end by saying the world’s governments have taken civilization down a road that is destructive, divisive, expensive both in money wasted and lives taken prematurely, and must end in catastrophe sooner rather than later. I’m doing my small part to change that course to one of peace and prosperity.

    Yes, I really do want WORLD PEACE! ;-)

    (to quote Gracie Lou Forbush in the movie “Miss Congeniality.”)

    Chris in Owatonna

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  11. Thank you for this post, Dale. I hope I am not anywhere near a TV today, because my psyche does not need to go through that again. I remember. I will light a candle and try to keep it going all day, with the fervent prayer that somehow the human race can get beyond the hunger for wealth and power, and believing “I have the only truth.” I will take time to meditate on that.

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    1. Steve, I remember the moment, of course. I was genuinely puzzled, like everyone else. Planes don’t fly into towers under normal weather conditions – it didn’t make any sense.
      The tension you heard in my voice was probably the same confusion everyone else was feeling – that and I was just saying goodbye to Joe Vass, a musician who had been my guest co-host for the first two hours of the program. I was about to do the last hour solo – Jim Ed was on vacation. The news (and images) of the second plane came a few minutes into that 8 to 9 am (central time) hour. I think we all knew at that point that this was an attack – an unfathomable event. I asked for extra updates from our news department and directed people to the news and information service to follow events. I tried to find some appropriate (!) music in the collection I had brought into the studio with me, and tried to stay hopeful. The south tower collapsed just as I was signing off at 9 am central.

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  12. I was unemployed on 9–11 so after hearing Dale on the radio I turned on the TV to scenes of confusion and watched the horror unfold. It is so different to think back on the events rather than to live with the uncertainty as they happened.
    What I remember most about that week was the profound sense of community as folks gathered in prayer, worked to rescue victims, and shelter stranded travelers. I so regret the waste of that tremendous pool of cooperation and international good will by the use of nationalist rhetoric and the the launching of war.
    I want to remember and respect those whose lives were lost but find it hard to find an observance that is not steeped in militant nationalism.

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    1. This is completely OT and even feels a bit irreverent to mention today, but I got the “Land of 10,000 Licks” from my milkman this week. I’m not crazy about the Sea Salt Toffee bits and teenager is not a big ice cream eater. I’ll probably bring the remainder to book club on Sunday. I’m sure Mini-Sota Donut will be MUCH better.

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    1. Yes, me too.
      I was thinking about my eighth graders today – many were two or three in 2001. They were doing a lab today – we were doing a lab in 2001. I was at school, probably by 7, so I didn’t hear right away. Then when the word spread, we decided we should just keep teaching, but tell the kids what little we knew. So most of us would only turn our tvs on for five minutes at the end of a class, and then have it off until almost the end of the next class. It was a really odd way to get the news.
      I had my pastor’s daughter in class and she was very worried that her dad would somehow be affected (he was in the naval reserve). Then my phone rang (rare in schools, really) and it was him, asking if I would play piano for a prayer service at church that night. It seemed surreal, but then many things did that day, that week, and sometimes since.

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  13. I continue to hope that a better world is possible where the response to 9-11 and similar events would not be a war on terror that leads more war making and more terror. It seems to me we are coming close to a time when a hope for a better world will not be enough and we will need to find a way to bring about important changes.

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  14. I remember entering 11th grade IB English 1 and seeing on the TV that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. We watched the second plane hit and the aftermath. I remember not learning a thing that day other than the fact that planes can cause massive destruction. It was sad, shocking, and very disturbing. Being in high school, I thought we were invincible, nothing could touch us, and nothing like that could ever happen. I still find it hard to fathom, even after all of these years. That sort of hatred and violence, it’s odd to me. I don’t understand it. How can anyone be that cruel? That mean? Have that much hatred in their heart? To this day, I don’t know the answers to those questions. Yes, we push our policies on other countries. Yes, we think we’re all that. It doesn’t mean that anyone deserves to get punished like that.

    I try not to dwell on it though. Yesterday was my brother and his wife’s one year anniversary and today, several of my friends have birthdays – including one who just turned 8 :) I didn’t watch any of the news stories, nor do I plan to. Thank you for all of your stories and memories. It’s interesting to hear others views.

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    1. I am very sad that people of your generation were slammed with this innocence-stealing event. Every generation has one or several, I suppose, but I guess having children of my own go through it brought it home. On the other hand, it was some tiny comfort that my parents were gone and DIDN’T have to live through it.

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  15. I refuse to put a partisan spin on this great tragedy, but I was fascinated tonight to read that evidence is mounting that the Bush White House had–and ignored–far more significant warnings of 9-11 than has been understood. I would just hate it if this story gets sucked up into the nastiness of our modern presidential election. I found the story on the NBC web site.

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    1. didnt dan rather get fired for that story?
      i read shortly after the tragedy that the terrosist threats from al quida was top priority stuff for clinton and the gang and that they were aware bush and his crew were blowing them off but there wasnt anything we they could do other than realize that under a new watch you can only yell so loud. bush reading little pony seemed so appropriate

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  16. I was not listening to TLGMS that morning because I was working and felt that classical music was a less distracting accompaniment. The KSJN announcer (whoever that was) must have said something about a plane hitting the tower but I wasn’t paying attention. A co-worker called and asked if I had heard; she knew that #1son was in school in NYC. From then on, I was glued to the set, so horrified that I couldn’t look away. I, too, was convinced that casualties would be in the 10s, if not 100s of thousands. I shed many tears thinking of the victims and their families.

    Luckily, my son was still in his apartment in Brooklyn when it happened and I heard from him rather quickly so I didn’t have long to worry. His roommates were already on Manhattan for classes or work; they had to walk home.

    Like BiR, I would not have observed the day without this blog post and people’s stories and comments. I never thought that the vividness of that time would fade but I now realize that it has, somewhat.

    I visited the memorial this spring and it was as powerful as I had anticipated. The sight of the water endlessly pouring from one deep hole into a deeper hole with no way for viewers to see the bottom reinforces the huge sadness.

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  17. Help I’m in iPhone purgatory and cant read replies for current day or add a comment. The ad at the bottom of the word press post prohibits all but opening of the ad. I knew this selling the soul for rock and roll would come back to haunt us here on the trail

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