As I write these words, it’s been a normal Monday.
I started out checking messages and social media after having a few minutes of morning time with my wife. Then I fought and fed the livestock, and went to the office. I picked up a coffee at a favorite eatery so I could sing happy birthday to one of the ladies who works there. The daily list of Drunk, Rude and Stupid folks was fairly typical for a Monday. People came and went from my office. Then there were messages to read and return, news to write, business to take care of. Monday being Monday, I didn’t get to grab lunch, but had to be satisfied with a most unsatisfactory reasonable facsimile. A quick phone call to my wife to make sure she was sane, and to get my daily shopping list.
A normal Monday.
Twice people asked me what day it was, and when I replied September 11, they stopped and stared.
“How can I forget that?” one fellow told me. He was elbow deep in his business, taking care of customers and trying to satisfy the government, while still working hard at making a living for his family.
I didn’t feel critical of him for forgetting for a few minutes about the date. While Monday was fairly typical for many of us, that Tuesday 22 years ago was anything but, even though it may have started out “normal,” whatever normal may be.
One friend was at work in a jewelry store; another was a pastor and he was waiting in a hospital for word on a churchmember’s surgery. Another friend was on patrol, looking for narcotics dealers.
Another was adjusting the automated feeder for his hog farm. Yet another was showing a house to a couple who were eagerly ready to buy. Yet another was in a college class, irritated because a fellow student’s phone kept going off.
A friend I hadn’t met yet, a reporter named Mike, was taking a shower after having spent most of the night covering a murder in a New Jersey city within sight of the New York skyline. A nurse named Chris in the same area was hustling her children into her husband’s car and being thankful that she no longer worked in an emergency room.
My brother Mike was asleep, having gotten off work around dawn at a local plant. Another friend was waking up to the usual daily aches and pains that he dealt with after serving his country in the military.
It was a normal day.
That day was fairly normal for me, too, but it was filled with hope. Mike Simmons was going to tell me when I could start work at the Bladen Journal. After years of full-time freelancing that gave me time to be with my father, I was ready for a “real” job again, one that didn’t depend on the vagaries of market trends.
It would have been my father’s birthday, had he not passed away in the spring. Mother and I were going to visit his grave after Rhonda went to work at noon – she worked from 12 until 10 each day for a local radio station. I had let her sleep in a little that morning.
I had made the morning rounds of the law enforcement agencies for one of the last times, and was listening to a television station that simulcast over the radio. I turned the television on after the first plane hit in New York, and woke her up just as the second plane slammed into the other tower.
There wasn’t a whole lot of “normal” over the next few days.
A lot was made over the so-called “new normal” during the Pandemic, when we were supposed to be avoiding other people, hiding behind masks in our homes, and doing exactly what the latest so-called authority said we simply must do, lest we kill the entire human race.
The new normal of 9/11/2001 wasn’t like that.
There was fear and uncertainty, but even before the flames quit coloring the New York and Virginia skylines, there was a combination of unity, love and yes, anger. We held hands and sang and prayed with total strangers. We learned about places most of us had only semi-heard of. We were angry, too, but we were angry together.
We were not just a country, but a nation and a tribe.
We were united.
Things changed in those days after 9/11 for everyone I mentioned above, either a little or a lot. Chris, whom I met years later, went to the emergency department of the hospital where she worked without even being asked, rather than go to her new job. She was one of those medical professionals who stood there and waited fruitlessly for the thousands of casualties that were expected.
My friend Mike ended up working on multiple other stories; the routine murder that kepy him up all night should have been front page news, but was shoved farther into the back. They could see the smoke across the Hudson River from his office windows.
Another friend tore up his retirement papers from the Army and went to see his commanding officer. My brother and his coworkers began breaking down and resetting the assembly line in his plant so they could do the impossible – and they did it, but that’s a column for another day, and one I have written before.
The Palestinian storekeeper down the street from our house wept as he draped an American flag across his front window and reassured customers that his people had nothing to do with the attacks. His family, who I happened to know, came to America to get away from followers of a false prophet who promised salvation for killing people who believed differently in God.
Yet what he had known since childhood had followed him to America.
Things changed, of course. The War on Terror dragged on and the politicians had to stroke their egos and get involved in nation-building, just so other politicians would have something to tear down, unknowing or uncaring about the effect it had on the people caught in the middle, people who just wanted to live their lives without worrying over being stoned to death for reading or shaving. Fighting the war became a matter of sacrificing American lives and our country’s honor on the altar of being careful not to offend the enemy, whether it was at Hamid Karzai Airport or Benghazi.
We Americans forgot the love and unity of Sept.12, 2001, and became even more divided over things that we should have been able to work out, of the politicians had stayed out of the way.
I know some folks who yearn for the days before 9/11. When you think about it, it makes sense – Russia was a memory, and America was the winner of the Cold War. We weren’t embroiled in a major shooting war. The economy was doing well. The Congress and President fought, true, but they worked things out as well. We didn’t have politicians screaming to divide us over race, sexual preference or electric cars.
I miss those days, too, days of hope for a new future.
But I miss 9/12 and the days immediately afterwards almost as much.
We came together, wiped the tears from each other’s faces, and hugged. Then we buried our dead, and came together as Americans to teach some of the evil ones in the world a hard lesson. We recognized a threat and demanded our leaders deal with it, not mollycoddle the threat and make excuses for American greatness.
Somewhere along the line we lost much of that unity, that drive and yes, that love.
I wish the day would come again, a time when love of country and a strong sense of right and wrong would once again just be part of a normal day.
That would be a new normal I could embrace.