Remembering 9/11: Where Were You Twenty Years Ago?
I remember, vividly, what I did that day, and indeed the vow I made to myself, to return to Germany, was reborn that day.
I write this post from Frankfurt Germany. Twenty years ago, this day, as I stared at a crystalline blue sky, from the Mall on Capitol Hill, I told myself, somehow, I would be “here,” although I did not know at that point, exactly how. Nor how hard it would actually be.
I was not a front-line responder in 9/11, although I had a bird’s eye view, repeated, via newsfeeds of every angle, from the Reuters office where I worked at the time long after the tragic events of this day. Indeed, most of us in the national media, surrounded by images of a tragedy it was impossible to escape from (and from multiple camera angles), for literally months afterwards.
By September 2001, I had made a vow to leave Washington, and further, the United States. I had lived in the nation’s capitol for ten years, working first in both national politics and then the national media. George Bush II was in the White House, and I knew, accurately, that the Capitol was now spoiling for a fight.
I was finally successful in cracking the (inter)national news circuit, after about eight years of trying, in progressively more interesting media roles and national documentary production that had already changed national policy. I helped save an Indian tribe at the age of 27 thanks to the documentary I showed to key senators and was shown in a small screening, to the Sec Def (Secretary of Defense). And that, plus a few other adventures, finally got me into the global news biz.
This day, twenty years ago, I was in to produce and edit the early news and financial packages sent out from DC to the rest of the country and indeed around the world in several time zones while most Americans are waking up and just turning on the TV (this was still in the days pre-YouTube or widespread internet). Of course, this being Reuters, there was a live feed focussed on the Capitol, the White House, and the Trade Centre in New York.
I was in between packages and in the main newsroom, chatting with a few colleagues and drinking endless cups of coffee, when the first plane hit the World Trade Centre. I ran back to an edit bay and was setting up to crash edit a package when the second plane hit.
At this point, being the North American HQ of one of the largest news organizations in the world, all of us ended up back in the main room. We were all watching, in a strange kind of suspended reality, broadcast to us in literally 3D, and on every wall. Images poured in from New York and from every angle. Indeed, that was the moment when an energy exploded across the newsroom, like an energy wave. We, the Washington Bureau of Reuters, the supposed safe retreat for war-weary correspondents and cameramen globally, were about to be in the middle of one of the biggest war stories of our generation. We just knew it.
At that point, in mid-town Washington, we felt the ground shake. Moments later we learned that it was the plane that hit the Pentagon. One of the editors, a male combat vet and veteran war correspondent, literally turned white.
“We are at war,” he said.
It was then that I caught the eye of the news director, standing on his raised dais of an office, and barking orders to the assembled team. “You,” he said, directly pointing at me, “go with Bob (an Australian cameraman) to the Capitol, and do not leave until the next plane hits.”
At this point, we were being fed intel that it would be either the White House or the Capitol Building next. In the aftermath of it all, I learned that the Capitol was indeed, supposedly, where the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, was headed. We will never know, really.
What I remember, however, is that I ran two miles with Bob, to about a mile and a half from the Capitol carrying camera, tapes, and all the accoutrement of a late last century professional production gig.
Bob (not his real name), put his hand up.
“Hold up,” he said. “This is as far as we are going. We don’t have health insurance.”
So we sat, waiting, as helicopters evacuated Capitol Hill and traffic streamed, in every direction, away from official Washington.
But the vow I made that day, surrounded by a nation about to go war, and begin to deal with forces that are now tearing the country, literally, apart, was a powerful one.
In some ways, it was a “f*ck you” to terrorists everywhere. Including those who had dehomed my father.
But that silent pledge, made in the fog of war, literally, carried me here, to Germany. To win a Supreme Court case overturning decades of discriminatory case law preventing Jews like my father and their descendants from returning “home.” To gain, finally, dual citizenship and a second home.
It also gave me the strength to succeed in several other goals, including working in the cannabis industry.
As I look back over the last twenty years, I know my journey has had its misdirected moments. There have been turns and twists in the story that are jaw dropping, sometimes funny, occasionally tragic but ultimately mine.
This is my life.
The events of this terrible day changed many lives.
It changed mine.
And for that, no matter the pain in memory, is something I give thanks for.
No terrorist was able to deter me. Those with the will to create a better present if not future for both ourselves, our industry, and indeed, our planet always make change happen.
Welcome to the future. May it be better than the past.