The morning after (9/11 Diary)

This continues our 9/11 Diary. It was originally published the day after the events of September 11, 2001.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor on

This article continues our remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001.

I wrote the following on Wednesday, September 12, 2001 and posted it on the ZATZ news pages. I've gone back into the archives, found my posts from those days, and I'm re-publishing them here, raw, and un-retouched. Reading my old posts has helped me get in touch with what this anniversary means. I hope that they serve a healing purpose for you, as well.

What an emotionally trying day it has been for us all! It's 3:23am on Wednesday and I'm just getting home after spending the evening with good friends, trying to make sense of this tragedy.

As I walked up to my front door from my car, I met my neighbor, who'd just gotten home as well. Completely out of the blue (this is a guy I might pass on the way to my car once every three or four months) this neighbor of mine decided to tell me that I should work out more and that he'd whip me into shape. When I told him I exercise regularly with a trainer, his response of "Well, then he's obviously not doing a good job," nearly sent me over the edge.

I was livid -- and bummed. I didn't want to be angry at my neighbor today. I wanted to be able to say kind things and reinforce our little sense of community. Instead, I did a "Yeah, Freddy, whatever you say," shook my head sadly, unlocked my door, and fed my elderly cat her thyroid medicine three hours late.

These little vignettes are being repeated across the nation. Everyone's freaked. Some react in kindness and some are striking back out of their own pain. And some just say the wrong things. Because I was so stressed, I had the urge to slug the guy. Fortunately I've got a good deal of self-control and I was way too drained to get into a silly battle with a neighbor.

I can't really say anything here to soften the shock and horror we're all feeling. There are people still trapped under the rubble, calling out with the few precious remaining minutes of cellphone battery juice. It's so unsafe to approach what's left of the World Trade Center that hundreds of firefighters are still missing and presumed dead. So the only lifeline these trapped people have is a possibly final call for help on their phones.

As you know from our coverage, our own Heather and 2,800 other cyclists completed the Canada/America AIDS Vaccine Ride this weekend. Heather got in on the train yesterday (she saw the World Trade Center for the last time out her train window just before she got home) and we'd wanted to celebrate her return today. Instead of celebrating the beautiful triumph of those riders, Heather spent a good part of today trying to find out if any of her fellow riders were on that plane from Boston. She thinks some were.

The evil some men do does not diminish the greatness of others. What the cyclists did on their 400 mile trek was great. The dedication of the rescue workers and our government has been what we expect from fellow Americans in crisis: exceptional. There was a man on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania who managed to call his mom from the plane telling her about armed hijackers. A media personality, Barbara Olsen, called to her husband and reported details of the hijacking, just minutes before her plane was used as a weapon of mass destruction. The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, held a press conference in the Pentagon to tell the world the building was operational. An American Airlines jet had just crashed into his building on the other side of the courtyard from his own office and yet he was able to pull himself and our military together to respond to this threat.

Some readers, including one named Roger, have told me I haven't given President Bush the credit he's due in this crisis. They're probably right, and for that I apologize. This is the sort of event that truly seasons a man, and the president has a very, very difficult job just now. Our best wishes go out to him, his family, and all the brave, scared, hard-working, dedicated public servants even now looking out for our well-being.

It's frightening. Roger tells me that Barbara Olsen was a friend of his oldest brother. Daniel Lewin, the 31-year old co-founder and chief technology officer at Akamai, was on another of the doomed flights, traveling from Newark to San Francisco, a route I've often traveled myself.

It's going to take days to even begin to determine the death toll and by the time the work is done, there will likely be thousands of other Barbara Olsens and Daniel Lewins whose names will become part of this sad, sad story.

Right now, mostly, we need to absorb. Then we'll need to grieve. Our government will need to punish. And eventually, we will rebuild. Now, today, as citizens, we really need to get along. Wherever possible, give your neighbor kindness. He or she is as frazzled and freaked as you or I. That's why I forgive my wacky neighbor his lack of judgement. It was probably simply his way of connecting with a neighbor. Let's all try to connect with our neighbors, be supportive, cut each other slack, and pull together.

There is no politics right now. Just pain, sorrow, and the wonderfully American traits of determination and resolve. We will overcome.

P.S. For our international readers, I know this is a very U.S.-centric piece. But you need to understand just how personal this is. The World Trade Center is just up the highway from us. Most of us know people who worked at either the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. And to all of you all across the world, thank you so much for your good will. It's very important for us, right now, to know that other peoples feel the same pain we do and send us their love.

Read the rest of the 9/11 Diary series:

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During our 9/11 retrospective coverage, I invite you to post your thoughts and remembrances, but I also request you remain respectful and polite. This isn't just a story of politics. This is a story of real people, their families, and their loss. Courtesy is demanded at a time like this. Thanks!

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