September 11, 2008

THAT day

Forget the words. There are no words. When people grope for them, commentators and politicians and ministers, they come up short. The facts are stark and simple: I flew in to DC on Monday. I drove to Dad’s house on Tuesday morning at about 9 am to pick him up for a dental appointment. He met me all agitated: did you see what happened? Did you hear what happened? A plane flew into the World Trade Center!

What, I thought. Bad move by a pilot, I thought. He led me to the television, where an incomprehensible sight was being transmitted. By then, a little after 9 am, TWO planes had crashed into the WTC, one into each tower. There were flames and smoke and falling debris. People were screaming. Fire engines were roaring. I had just seen a few minutes of that awful movie, Mars Attacks!, on television Sunday evening, the day before I left. The WTC had been attacked in that movie too.

As had been the Pentagon. Incredulous, because a few minutes later the report flashed on that the Pentagon had also been attacked. A plane had flown into it as well. And – shortly after – reports of a fourth plane that had crashed somewhere near Pittsburgh. This last crash, I thought at first, might have nothing to do with the other three; the panic mentality sometimes creates linkages with completely unrelated occurrences.

But I was wrong. It did have to do with the others. Four planes, each aimed at a different US target: the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the White House. Three of them made it. The fourth failed only because the passengers, alerted by a furtive cell phone call from one of them, learned what was about to happen (though not the target) and rushed the hijackers. Or maybe they were shot down by one of our fighters. Everyone died and everyone would have died no matter what so it is almost irrelevant what made that plane crash. Actually I’d like to think that our F-14s finally got their act together and stopped what would have been another bloodbath. The last plane crashed in an unpopulated area about 40 miles from Pittsburgh. No ground casualties.