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September 11, 2003

On That Morning

On that morning I was driving my Explorer down I-85, after the convergence of Ga-400 and before the meeting with I-75, towards downtown Atlanta, heading for the World Congress Center. I forget which trade show it was, but I was then working for a company which no longer exists. I was listening to the local PBS radio station, probably Morning Edition, when I heard that a plane had crashing into the World Trade Center.

My first thought, having grown up in and around planes, was that there must be bad weather in New York and the plane must have had serious instrument troubles. The T word had not yet been mentioned, but it did seep in, and was immediately rejected, as a possibility. It just seemed too weird.

I went on, listening for updates, but everything was pretty confused. Traffic wasnít too bad since the worst of rush hour was past. I raced a few lights, grabbed my parking ticket, and wove my way up the multi-story ramp to park. When I reached the main exhibit hall I noted small clusters of exhibitors around booths that had televisions. In our booth one computer was set up to monitor CNNís site. We had a hard time staying connected as the load simply overwhelmed the site.

There were rumors of another plane crashing into the other tower. Most of us shook it off as confused reporting. But everyone stood clustered around the few televisions on the show floor, or huddled at terminals trying to get through the internet crush as millions tried to get the latest news from the news sites. We timed out constantly, trying to reach CNN that was about a block away across the street in the CNN Center. I had the idea to try The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionís site, and that wasnít as pounded.

It became clear it was terrorists. I know I had a sick feeling in my stomach and the knowledge that the world as we thought we knew it was gone. Islamic fanaticism was going to be a major issue in the time to come. It was impossible not to think of Revelations, and the coming of war to the Middle East.

It also made me recall a similar earth-shaking event, and others still. I was at work, at Televideo, when Challenger exploded shortly after launch. My emotions were similar: deep, stomach-churning sadness for those who lost loved ones, and sadness for the country itself. I felt a fear for what the emotion of the moment might drive us as a country to do. Would the explosion gut NASA and destroy the space program? It drove me to become involved in space advocacy for years.

I remember coming down the stairs in a rented house in Grand Rapids, Michigan to see Mom with the iron suspended in one hand watching television, the ironing forgotten. I heard the President, John F. Kennedy, had been shot. That memory is fainter, I was seven years old, but I remember the uncertainty it brought, the knowledge of coming change.

The most recent event of this order was the second shuttle loss. I was working at home, the television tuned to Fox News, when bulletins scrolled across the bottom saying contact had been lost with the re-entering shuttle. From the stated delay, I knew it was in trouble, at a minimum. My stomach already told me it was gone.

As much as we want things to become better, we fear change with an irrational and gut-level fear. With enough life experience we know that every action has unintended consequences, and when something happens that we know will drive change, we worry.

But we should, in fact, be constantly worried. There are no pivotal moments; today is an ongoing process. Now is past before we can even think it. Change is constant.

All we can do is try our best to think through our actions. And we must act; we cannot help it. Even ďdoing nothingĒ is acting. Our very individual existence mutates what will become tomorrow according to how we choose to act. We canít let others act for us; only we can act for ourselves. We canít act for another; only he can act for himself.

Too much philosophizing, but days like this lead one in that direction. While philosophizing is too, of course, an action, itís not the one I need now, so back to that.

Letís not forget what happened two years ago. Letís act in the way we believe proper and do what we must. And letís not feel guilty when it conflicts with others doing likewise. We each chose. We each choose.

Posted by dan at September 11, 2003 03:01 PM