There was a viral post/sentiment spread around social media a few years back expressing how some people, “missed September 12th”. As was the case back when the concept was initially spoken, it’s just as important, now, to state the obvious: NO ONE wishes a day like September 11th, 2001 into existence; nor do they wish for the pain and unimaginable loss experienced by those who lost loved ones.
I wasn’t a police officer on September 11th, 2001. I was, however, in the early stages of my law enforcement career, serving as a police dispatcher for The New Jersey State Police. I worked steady midnights at that time, so I was peacefully sleeping as the events of that day began to unfold. It wasn’t until my wife called to wake me up that I was aware of our world changing forever. More accurately, it wasn’t until I turned on the TV that it TRULY set in; that both of the towers of the World Trade Center had been intentionally struck by airplanes posing as missiles. Much like every other American not living those events first person, I sat staring at my TV, motionless and frozen in disbelief at what was unfolding.
As I said, I was a dispatcher and, without deep-diving into the mechanics of how your cellular 9-1-1 calls are answered in the state of New Jersey (or were at least at that time), suffice to say that, in 2001, if you dialed 9-1-1 from your cellphone in New Jersey and parts of New York City, your phone call was being answered by one a few New Jersey State Police dispatching centers. Likewise, when the system itself is overloaded, it would bounce your call to the first available answering point in range. The point of that really simplistic attempt at explaining answering points is to help you understand that the vast majority of the 9-1-1 calls that were made from those trapped in the World Trade Center towers that morning…especially when the system became overloaded…were answered by New Jersey State Police dispatchers; my coworkers.
By the time I went in to work, the events of 9/11 had fully been realized; and while I didn’t have a front row seat to the horror of that day, I had a much different view. During those morning hours, my coworkers were flooded with calls detailing names, locations inside of the towers, directions to where the callers were trapped and, of course, cries for help. As the minutes passed and the reality of the situation became more and more clear, those calls morphed into names, the names and addresses of the callers family, and dying declarations…stacks of them.
For whatever reason God spared me that horror as well…having to be the last person a dying person…one that KNEW they were dying…was able to speak to.
So, for most of my adult life, my perspective on 9/11 was that of a patriotic adult, born and raised in the United States of America, fully aware of the evil required to exist in order to facilitate a day such as that one. Despite the fact that I’ve been a police officer now for the past 16 years, this year was the first year that I actually tracked the times that each instance occurred. Because of my perspective now, as an active duty police officer, my respect for the men and women in uniform that day, is so much more profound.
As a police officer, I have experienced chaos; albeit none to the level of 9/11. When you arrive to the scene of any incident, as a police officer, your primary task, in short, is to assess and restore some semblance of order while you sort out the who, what, when where and why. When you really experience the time frames between each ‘happening’ on 9/11, especially thinking AS a police officer, you get a very real sense of how out of control things had to feel to America’s first responders. Before you can even wrap your head around what just happened, something equally as horrific occurs, completely shifting any focus you had back to square 1; like an over-matched boxer being pummeled by the flurry of punches coming from an opponent who trying to finish you. For the first time in 22 years, I was at a loss for words while immersed in what that had to feel like; at just how brave our men and women had to be that day to take on that task.
Like every tragedy we experience in life, the days and weeks after are a blur of realization and acceptance. We instinctively circle the wagons and surround ourselves with our support structure; friends and family who are ok with seeing us break down, cry, scream, break things in anger, and who will be there to quietly help us pick the pieces back up. Most importantly, the petty things that seem to consume our time day in/day out get appropriately tabled and put into perspective.
On September 12th, 2001, that was no different. Except, in this case, it was on a NATIONAL scale. Cops were cheered. Firemen were cheered. EMS workers were cheered. Resources needed to search through mountains of rubble, recover those lost and eventually clear away the broken pieces, came from every corner of the country. Support services offering everything from food to hugs did the same. Even away from Ground Zero, EVERYONE understood the gravity of what had occurred and were united in the common goal: healing.
I’ll never forget, a few months after 9/11, my neighbor and I were outside shoveling mounds of snow. We paused and just started talking about the state of the world. My neighbor, a devout Muslim, was hurting…just as much as any other person who realized the opportunity that the United States of America represented and was sick over the attempt to undermine that through evil. Only, his hurt went much deeper because he was also bearing the task of having to endlessly fight the assumption by others that, as a Muslim, he endorsed the attacks of 9/11. Keep in mind, I was not a police officer at that time. So this was not a man trying to convince a representative of government out of the fear of some kind of legal retribution; nor was this a man in fear of any kind of hate as we had always been cordial since the day we became neighbors. This was simply a man who needed t0 vent.
We spoke for over an hour as he spoke about his religion; how many from overseas view the West; how there are extremists from every walk of life who, with hate born from propaganda, jealousy and pure evil, seek to destroy what they don’t understand.
Our interaction that day was indicative of millions that occurred from coast to coast beginning on 9/12/01; people from all walks of life, bonded over love of country and the freedoms she provides, trying to make some sense of what just happened.
My friend and I often joke that, with where we are now as a nation, the time is right for an alien invasion; because only in the face of a common enemy will the world be able to truly unite. As much sarcasm as is inherent with a statement like that, there’s a lot of truth there too. For all the loss, hurt, pain and misunderstanding that followed 9/11/01, there was also an exorbitant amount of unity.
I long for that unity. The intentional and willful division in this nation has become exhausting.
My only fear is that the 2023 version of America would not respond as the 2001 version did. I fear that, were an attack such as 9/11 ever occur again, many Americans would, not only have a hand in it, but even more would justify it and arrogantly claim that we somehow brought it on ourselves through our greed and pride.
As much as I wish 9/11/01 never happened, I miss the greatness that rose to the occasion beginning on 9/12/01.