There’s something to be said about “the good old days.” I look back on them and smile, more often than not. Of course, unless we’ve perfected the art of “selective memory,” we realize that to look back over the course of our lives also requires us to revisit moments of sorrow.
It’s drawing close to two decades since life as we knew it changed forever in the fall of 2001. I was a beat reporter in Chicago starting the day as usual with coffee, donuts and engaging in chatter with my colleagues. It was deadline day so we had much to day. Suddenly, our fax machine began to beep loudly, spitting out tomes of press releases about strange goings on in New York City. As we gathered around the fax machine, our editor began reading directives from nation security officials advising us how to interpret and share the news with our readers. The United States was under attack.
Watching the Twin Towers burn, crumble and disintegrate on that Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, as well as seeing further destruction inflicted upon the Pentagon in Arlington, was a surreal experience. There’s no need to revisit the terror we all felt. As for me, it’s still just as real and raw as it was then.
I was a recently divorced father and my two children who lived with their mother in Detroit, were just 11 and 7 years old. The editor decided to send a team from our suburban offices to downtown Chicago — I was dispatched as the reporter accompanied by a young photographer. As we boarded the train, I immediately noticed that we were the only two passengers. On the flip side, those trains heading away from the city were packed and the riders were clearly afraid. I was doing my job but I was not eager to become a hero or a martyr. But on we went to the skyscrapers that blanketed the Windy City.
As there was so much we still did not know I feared that airplanes of death might also be headed our way that would soon traverse the skies of Chicago as they already had in New York and Arlington. However, my fear for my own life quickly subsided — I wanted to know where my children were, where my former wife, who worked for the federal government in a Detroit was, and if they were all safe. Cell phones were inoperable. Confusion and panic took hold of the American people. Yes, it was a 20th-century form of Armageddon.
Years later, as we now review the news which has since become history, while I have few concerns about attacks from foreign interlopers, I am very worried about today’s almost daily forms of American-based and bred terrorism: mass shootings, drive-by attacks, anthrax scares and white supremacist-led insurrections.
Nearly 20 years ago, in the “good old days,” our greatest fears came from crazed minds and groups from abroad. Today, the threat which poses the greatest danger to our lives comes from within. We have become our own and worst enemies. We are no longer the “united” states of America. As Baldwin once predicted, it’s the “fire next time” that we should fear most of all.