Author's Note: I was asked to repost my first hand recollection of September 11th again this year. I think it's important that we remember what happened and how we reacted as individuals and as a nation, especially in light of the recent abhorrent and repugnant bigotry, divisions, and fear that many have stoked in the name of scoring political points.
It's hard to believe it has been ten years. Looking back at the terrorist attacks of September 11th, it's easy to see it as the event that has shaped politics and the direction of our country, for good and bad, for an entire generation. For me, however, it is a highly personal experience and one that is not easily boiled down into a bumper-sticker or a stump speech talking point. Back in my pre-political life, I was a flight attendant and was in the air on September 11th, 2011 working a flight from New York City to Florida.
I worked for an airline that has live TV's in every seat, so we were some of the few people in the air that actually watched the horrors of that day unfold live. It all started normally enough. The crew of 6 met for the early morning flight, expecting a short trip to Tampa and back. The plane was full of people and we had a quiet, low-key service, chatting with the few passengers who were awake.
Then it happened.
We heard a murmur pass through the cabin and then dozens of attendant "call-buttons" went off. We ran into the cabin to find people crying and asking us what was going on. The crew had no idea (we don't have TV's in our galleys), so we sat with the passengers and watched in horror as the news came in: a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
The news didn't know what was happening- if it was an accident or something more. I got on the phone with our pilots, who knew only a few small facts from chatter on the radio. We set up a communication line, updating our pilots with news from the TV as it came in. We were almost ready to start our descent when the entire plane seemed to scream at one time.
A second plane had hit. This was a terrorist attack.
The crew went into crowd control mode as we were told by the pilots that we were being ordered to land immediately. The plane went into a sharp decent as we worked to calm passengers while at the same time arming ourselves with whatever we could find as "weapons" in case we had hijackers on board as well- coffee pots, fire extinguishers, anything we could use to defend ourselves and our plane.
We landed safely and police met the plane to help unload panicked passengers. Our little crew of 6 sat on the empty plane, holding hands and watching in shock as reports came in of other planes going down and crashing. We tried to call friends, to find out if our co-workers were okay or on the planes that went down. As a New York based airline, we all feared the worst. We watched as more horrible news came in- the towers collapsed, thousands were feared dead, rumors flew that more planes had gone down.
In the days that followed when we returned to NYC, I went into the city, attended vigils for the victims (including my fellow flight attendants). I cried and waved as first responders and firefighters drove by to help in the recovery effort. I looked for the faces of friends in the thousands of missing persons fliers that were posted around the city. I continued to fly nearly empty planes, the whole time fearing that it could happen again. It actually played a huge part in making the decision to leave the industry in later years.
To me, 9-11 was a very personal experience. It brought me closer to friends and family and made me realize what was important to me, forever changing the direction my life took. That is why it saddens me as I watch politicians and political parties use it as a "call to action" or as a reason to chip away at personal freedoms and rights. Instead of coming together as a country, it seems we entered into a time that is more distrustful and divided than ever, throwing around terms like "unpatriotic" or "real Americans" with impunity. That day changed so much and shaped our politics for generations to come. It remains to be seen if we can learn and grow from it or simply stagnate in fear and divisions.