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.
In just a few days, America will pause to remember that early September day 20 years ago when life as we knew it changed forever.
Back then, I was a beat reporter in Chicago starting the day as usual with coffee and donuts while engaging in chatter with my colleagues. It was deadline day for the weekly publication, so we had much to accomplish.
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 most important, how to 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 now 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. Needless to say, I was worried out of my mind. But I had a job to do.
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 headed toward downtown.
On the flip side, the trains heading away from the city were packed with the riders clearly in an agitated state. I don’t know for sure who was more afraid but I remember sweating bullets.
Sure, 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 skyline.
As there was so much we still did not know, I feared that airplanes of death might also be headed our way which 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 and prayed that they were safe from harm. I feared for the safety of their mother, still the love of my life, who worked for the federal government in an office in downtown Detroit.
Cell phones were inoperable. Confusion and panic took hold of the American people. Yes, it was a 20th-century form of Armageddon.
Today, despite the recent warnings of potential terrorist acts, I have few concerns about attacks from foreign interlopers. I’m more concerned about American-based and bred terrorism: mass shootings, drive-by attacks, anthrax and other viral predators and white supremacist-led insurrections.
Twenty years ago, in the “good old days,” our greatest fears came from crazed minds and fanatical 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.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this commentary was first published in The Washington Informer on September 4, 2019.