It’s been almost 20 years since 9/11. I was there that day – I had a front-row view – when my world changed. I lived four blocks away from the towers. Cliff street between Fulton and John. You could see one of the towers just down John. I worked as a techie on Wall Street at the time, living the good life and working in a hot field making that money writing software for this new internet thing. I was utterly oblivious to anything beyond my world, but it all changed that morning.
I woke up to the crash of the first plane. Just rounded the corner as the second hit. Watched in horror and ran for my life when the first tower fell. Spent the day with my housemates plucking shell-shocked people off the streets to give them water and news and a moment of sanity.
We all thought we were probably gonna die soon, besides the pandemonium and screaming and crying there was explosions you could hear going off somewhere. Outside it looks like a snow storm, but it wasn’t snow. It didn’t smell like snow at all. But we couldn’t go, what are you gonna do when there’s people literally sitting in the middle of the street in shock.
Towards the end of the day 7 world trade fell. We lost electricity, finally. I remember thinking how incredible it was that the power was still on with two craters where the towers just were. It was one of those strange thoughts that came through with unexpected clarity, and I still remember to this moment the strange feeling of puzzlement I felt. Now with the electricity off, everything in me said it was time to go.
Luckily my girlfriend and I had a car, and were one of the last people to make it off the island before they closed the bridges. We hightailed it up to my friends house in Bedford where we were lucky enough to spend the next 10 days while we tried to put our minds and our thoughts and feelings back together. It took a while. it’s hard to explain what that felt like. But I still feel it, it was like a death.
I’ll never forget that day. It’s when I lost my innocence, I think we all did. It’s when this nightmare started, it’s when the militarized police and the comprehensive spying programs started. it’s also when we collectively gave permission to our government to do the most awful things in our name so that we would never have to feel what we felt that day again.
We spend so much time railing at invisible forces that surveil and control us and dictate the whims of our lives, and we act as if we don’t know the identities of those responsible.
We look for a deep state, we look for an enemy, someone ready and willing to take the blame and all of the hate and darkness that we refuse to deal with ourselves and refuse to own and feel and be responsible for.
But it was always us. It was always our willingness to look away while others did things in our names so that we could feel safe that led us here. What else could it be? It was truly a team effort between the technologists, the weapons makers, the politicians, and the willing suburban housewives and husbands who all just wanted to make a better world! (for themselves)
There’s no free lunch, however. There’s no consequence-free action, There’s nobody to blame but ourselves. There’s not even any way to measure the severity of any our personal and collective failure – we are all as culpable as the worst among us and we all must contribute to a transformative resolution.
We can either learn this fact now and be humbled by it and in that humility come together to change the world, or we can continue with this lunacy and see what happens next. It won’t take another 19 years to find out.