Both days were bright and sunny, and yet both mornings brought the darkest of news.
In September 2001, I awoke to yet another beautiful day in Fremont, CA, and prepared to run before heading to my afternoon shift, working as an oceanic air traffic controller at FAA’s Oakland Center. I was renting a room in a house where an 89-yr-old former merchant marine was being cared for by his niece, with extra care provided by a cheerful Filipina who arrived each day. He lived in a reclining medical chair/bed next to the kitchen, adjacent to a phone and a breathing machine, and his TV was often on. I came out ready to run and walked by just to say ‘good morning’. I stopped when I saw his TV showing the images of the first tower strike, and minutes later I watched as the network showed images of the second tower strike. I watched a bit more, in shock, then went for my run. Not a quarter mile later I stopped and I bent over and I cried.
In July 2014, I awoke in my rural Oregon home, with plans to harvest more blueberries and finish building planter boxes for my Fall garden. I was having some coffee and checking the news online when I learned that a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed, and was possibly shot down by a missile. I spent the next few hours learning as much as I could about Ukraine, Russia, the history of the area, and the emerging details of what soon was confirmed to be a terrorist attack that killed all 298 aboard.
Thirteen Years Later, Things are Just Slightly Different
In 2001 I cried, but in 2014 I did not. Was it that they were different, in Ukraine, not American? No, not at all. In fact, as I hurriedly searched for information about the crash/attack, I was frankly stunned when I saw the local videos on YouTube. I was stunned, not by the black smoke and falling debris, but by the peripheral image: the rustic farm buildings, the vibrant mid-summer garden, the young walnut tree — it all looked just like my home, here in rural Oregon. As I studied the images, I heard the muffled crying of Ukrainians, also shared by YouTube. These Ukrainians were witnessing this event with debris and bodies raining upon their homes, and I felt they were just like me and my neighbors here in Oregon. God, this debris could have fallen here today. It has been a week, yet I still cannot help but to wonder: the way things appear to be trending, how many years will it be before domestic terrorists bring down U.S. airliners upon sleepy agricultural areas in the American heartland? Really, just how sick is humanity?
I cried in 2001 because this terrorist act was new and ramped up; and, it indicated how the world was changing in the wrong direction. I cried for my kids, and for our future. But, in 2014, I did not cry. At least not yet. I think it was the numbing effect, of a horrific human tragedy repeated. It makes us stoic; it destroys our humanity.