As I got ready for work on Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, I sat to check my email and found something from a friend in Dallas. It was sent to a group of us. All it said was, "Guys, turn on your TVs. A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."
I quickly turned on the TV and started my experience of the day's events. I don't remember the exact details of the exact moment when I had come in on the story. My first memories are of this chain of emails that started among the members of our group. Two of our list members were in the Pentagon when that plane hit, and the emails soon began about various members and their attempts to get in touch with our unaccounted for friends.
Nobody could get through. Phones were down and neither person involved could get word out via email. I wanted to stay until word came through, but I had to get to work, not knowing.
The tragedy of the attacks followed me - I parked my car where I normally would. As I went inside, I found out all people were being evacuated from the building. It was a skyscraper (relatively speaking) that housed a US Embassy and nobody was taking chances. Keep in mind that this is Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. We were evacuating a building because it contained a US Embassy. That was how far-reaching this event was. Thousands of miles from the event, and we were evacuating buildings.
The day itself passed in a numb disbelief as we all tried to get as much done as we could. I had the radio on - there was no TV at work.
After the attacks subsided and the buildings fell, there was a calming. At that point, all the news was in the form of recaps of the attacks, timelines, death estimates, Mayor Giuliani and his actions, George W Bush, press conferences, video replays, witness interviews, etc.
I got home and ran for the email. It wasn't until supper time when the first email came through from our missing people. They were safe - shaken, but safe. We read the details of what had happened, how they got out, and all the other details of the re-telling.
My TV was kept on 24-7 during the next days and weeks. Bush spoke, Giuliani spoke, newscasters spoke. David Letterman was not broadcasting. The USA was - except for the reporting of this event - shut down to all other things.
I was very afraid after the attacks. I was far away, and maybe safe and out of range, but I was afraid. I don't like it when bad things happen. I get out of sorts when bad vibes abound.
As a pilot, I was accustomed to watching huge jets with awe and admiration as they roared overhead. Now I was afraid of planes. We would calm ourselves with the comfort that if a low flying plane had his gear down, he was probably okay - he was just coming in for a landing. But there were those gasps of worry nonetheless.
I saw David Letterman when he decided to come back. It was an incredible broadcast. In the days that followed, I remember one of the talk show hosts (Letterman, Leno...?) had an animal handler come out with a giant bald eagle. This magnificent creature stood high on the handler's arm and flexed his wings to full stretch! He turned his head to the side. He said "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL" with this gesture and the crowd burst out in cheers, applause, and tears. I shed a few myself. It was gorgeous.
Everybody was together. Everybody was one. I wasn't even in the US, and I felt the connection.
One of the first things I did in the days after the attacks (on the 15th of September) was to attach an American flag to the radio antenna of my car and drive to Grand Forks, North Dakota. All I wanted to do was to be in the presence of my US neighbours - to let them see my Canadian license plate and the American flag. It was something I had to do. In those times, it was important to say I was a friend.
American flags were everywhere in my city - on the fire-trucks, on the cars, hanging off balconies and pasted up in windows. As we went about our business, we stopped and thanked firemen in the streets.
The years passed. We have our anniversary reports, we watch the videos, we re-tell the story, and we remember.
Every year, I dive head first into the story. I remember the emails, the images on TV, the sadness at what was lost, and the hole left in the hearts of us all.
Jump ahead to now - ten years into the future. And here we are again. I still get frightened when I watch the videos. Stephen Colbert had Tom Brokaw on his show the other night, and Brokaw re-told the day's events from his perspective. The audience - and I - sat in reverent silence as he spoke. Because we all knew - we all remembered.
If I could, I would watch every show, every broadcast, every interview I could find on this event. It means a lot. For me, it defines the fragility of decency and the good fortunes we share...and how quickly those fortunes can be lost.
Humankind has the ability to be so hatefully cruel that to count my blessings is very important to me. I don't like to take things for granted.
As I type this, a soldier who was in the Pentagon when it was hit is on CNN. He is having difficulty re-telling his story. To help him, two of his fellow soldiers come on-camera to sit with him and support him through his tears.
I never want to forget this. I never want to forget friendship, and the price that was paid to remind us how important it is.