I hope you don’t mind if I go a bit off-topic and personal today. Time has been short this week, and this is top of mind:
“Wake up,” said my wife as she shook my shoulder. “You’re going to want to see this.”
As I sat up, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she indicated the TV at the foot of the bed. There was a building on the screen, with a plume of smoke billowing out of it. Barely awake, I knew that I recognized the building and that something was really wrong with it, but at first I couldn’t remember where it was.
My wife had to leave for work, but I remember someone on the television saying that they thought a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Then, as they showed the burning skyscraper, a passenger jet streaked into the shot and smashed into the second tower. It was so stunning and unlikely a thing to see — Wait, was that a plane? — that for a moment I wasn’t sure that I really had seen it at all. Unfortunately, however, there was no mistaking the smoke, the fire, the frightened and desperate people flinging themselves hopelessly out of upper-story windows, the destruction as the towers crumpled down upon themselves.
At the time, I was managing editor of the San Francisco Independent, a three-day free newspaper whose owners recently had purchased the San Francisco Examiner. I regret to admit that mixed in with sorrow for the people who were already dead, and those I began to realize would soon die, I felt embarrassed and frustrated that my paper was on 200,000 doorsteps that Tuesday morning with no indication of the tragic events of that day. I’m not proud of feeling that kind of personal embarrassment when people were dying, but there it is.
Later on, of course, once it became clear that what had happened was an act of deliberate terrorism, I began to fear for the safety of my family, and to wonder what kind of scars that day would leave on my country. I also recalled, with a chill, a message that someone had left on my voicemail at the newspaper just a few months before.