twin towers

I was sitting at my desk writing when the phone rang. It was my friend Valerie. She was very upset. She said, “Turn on your TV. Something terrible is happening.”
“I’m busy,” I replied. “I’ll check the news later.”
“No, now,” she said. “A plane has flown into a building in New York.”
“It’ll be on this evening’s news.”
“No, this is different. Turn it on now.”
I did, just in time to see the second plane strike the second tower. I sat there, uncertain of what I was seeing. Was this, I wondered, a Hollywood hoax like War of the Worlds? It seemed impossible. The idea of a commercial jet flying into a skyscraper belonged in Superman comics or disaster movies.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Nobody knows,” Valerie replied. And hung up.
I sat, staring at the screen. It was so unbelievable that I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing. And then the buildings collapsed.
After that it became a jumble. I no longer remember when I saw what. Instead, that day and the days that followed are like a crazy kaleidoscope of images. People fleeing before clouds of dust. People  so covered in dust that they might have been the living dead in a horror movie. People hiding in buildings. People jumping off buildings.
And a strange sense of helplessness.
The news of the Pentagon and the plane in which people fought back hardly registered. All the images were of the buildings being hit by two commercial jet liners, of the buildings collapsing, of people fleeing, office workers dressed for the business day hurrying to escape the horror behind them.
Later, it was the reports of firemen rushing up the stairs to their deaths, of police officers directing chaos, of people making minor decisions that meant they lived or died, of security personnel trained to give the wrong instructions, of chaos, chaos and chaos. Not just physical chaos but emotional, mental chaos as I tried to grasp what had happened.
And then, as I read about men from the Middle East taking flying lessons in which they were only interested in learning how to take off and how to fly, but not to land and wondered about all the millions spent on security that provided no security at all. Of the vast sums of money spent on meetings and salaries and expenses but didn’t pick up on the oddity of pilots in training who didn’t want to learn to land. And later, when the disaster in New Orleans happened, and it turned out that all the incredible millions spent in preparation for disaster was simply money wasted, I thought again of the twin towers.
And I think, each time I go through airport security that the destruction wrought on the twin towers was just the beginning of the destruction that has rippled out for the past ten years. When I take off my belt and shoes, when a security guard says you’ve been chosen at random to have your bags checked for explosives, the terrorists who hijacked the planes are at work. When I read that tourist traffic from America has fallen dramatically, when the US budget is vastly overspent, I see the ghosts of the terrorists grinning.
When terrible people do terrible things, the way we defeat them is to go back to living our lives normally. In so far as we haven’t done that, we’ve let them win. As far as we continue to let them change our lives, the twin towers are still falling.