I was still working away in the sock factory's distribution center, lugging boxes for the trucks to pick up. Or that would've been my task, if the orders had come in.
But the work load and my wages were either overtime and a feast or, like now, famine. I was feeling the morass of a slow economy, and I was afraid I'd have to burn yet ANOTHER vacation day to fill out the paycheck and pay the bills on time. I was looking around for things to sweep up, neaten up, and pick up so I wouldn't be sent home sooner than absolutely necessary.
When I'd gotten back to the line where I stacked the boxes on the pallets, about 9:30 AM or so, Mike the floor manager told me the news: an airliner had smashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. He said that it was suspected that terrorists were to blame.
When he moved on, I admit I was a cynical jerk. I figured it was reported that way for the sake of spiking the news network's rating's bar. And later, it would be reported as a pilot or autopilot error, and that it was going to simply be the Terrible Tragedy of the Year, like the Oklahoma City bombing or the Columbine shooting.
Since I had no computer, TV, or radio in my work area, I heard absolutely nothing more on it until I finally got home at 12 noon for lunch. I was still thinking it was just one plane and an accident then. It was less than 1.5 miles from the workplace, so I was fond of driving back home and getting a quickie web fix. Then I logged into MSN Messenger, and found one of my online friends. The messages went more or less like this:
Him: Are you all right?!
Me: Yes... shouldn't I be?
Him: Man... haven't you seen what's going on?!
Me: Uh... no, I've been away from the PC and TV... is it about the plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers?
Him: No, man! Two planes! And the Towers are GONE.
Him: Dude, turn on the TV!
So I did. And that's when I finally got a clue on the magnitude of Sept. 11.
He eventually let me know that the Pentagon had been hit as well, and a plane went down somewhere in Pennsylvania (his home state). And once I saw MSN's official news article on it... well... I was numb.
At 12:30 PM, I finally came back to work anyway... and saw my other workmates huddled around the radio, listening in. I didn't know what to do... then I started praying. For God to keep my e-friends safe. For the people who might have survived in the rubble. For the rescue workers hustling to save them. For the families whose hearts were ripped apart there and then. For the families whose loved ones weren't ever coming home.
Then finally, I decided, I couldn't do much by myself, and my prayers would do something... but it shouldn't be just me.
So I tapped my foreman Lee, and said I wanted to take our next 10 minute rest break, and instead of going for snacks or coffee... to meet somewhere and have a prayer for the nation, and the whole mess. He said yeah, and to meet in the accounts office.
1:50 PM. I didn't how many coworkers were born again believers like myself. I knew Lee, and Cindy and Nancy in the office, Pam the cleaning lady, and a couple of the forklift drivers were. I counted on maybe five or six people showing up, including myself. I figured that'd be enough.
Dang if almost the whole freaking DC didn't show up.
The office walls were completely lined with employees. Order pickers. Managers. Forklift drivers. Unskilled labor noodges like myself. And we were all here to pray for our nation.
I admit, I never saw myself as a leader, even then. (Still don't, really... I'd like to think the Lord led this, and that I was just the first guy to make a move.) So I stammered through why we were all here. And we got to praying... for our nation. For forgiveness if our sins had somehow invited this assault on us. For the police, firefighters and EMTs in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. For the citizens and families caught up there. For our military and other civic forces across the nation. For President Bush, and our other leaders. For protection against any further assaults, and that whatever evil plans Satan had on us fail miserably.
And somehow, we even prayed for the miserable souls that were behind this, that they repent and turn to God.
I think we went overtime with the break there, but hey... things were kinda slow at the center anyway.
And we'd had a prayer session on September 11, 2002 and 2003 while I was still with them. I don't know if they continued it after I went to China back in November 2003.
After the work day was done, I'd gone back home, and discovered I'd needed groceries. At first, I thought that going about everyday life with this atrocity going on seemed kind of callous, but I realized that simply sitting at home and wringing my hands wasn't going to help anybody. So I went over to the local Wal-Mart Supercenter to pick up the edibles.
The mood there was midnight quiet and tomb somber. No crowds. No noise. The monitors which usually had all those loud, colorful, raucous "Thank You For Shopping At Wal-Mart!" spots were tuned into CNN's news footage from New York. Not a yellow round smiley face anywhere.
I couldn't help but think... it took an assault on the nation to get rid of them.
When I got back home, I stocked the stuff, turned on the TV and got back online. All my friends had been counting cyber-noses and making sure we were all present and accounted for. I was worried that my computer was going to end up hash because I suspected a major scale terrorist attack like this would probably have a virus blitz to come up next. Didn't happen, but I was watching my virtual "back."
Then finally, I'd gotten a phone call from a nervous cyberfriend... from Britain. I'd been a web paranoiac about trusting my phone number with just anybody, and she'd finally gotten mine. Now she was chattering away about how she'd been trying to contact a friend in New England but couldn't reach her since the main call processing center was in the destroyed World Trade Center. And she said her brother was going on about he expected America to go completely bat-shot and start launching nukes any second now. I reassured her that we weren't going to be THAT bullheaded.
I surfed on, and noticed which major media conglomerates owned what by the news arms that had overridden the stations... CBS News took over MTV, VH1, CMT and USA; ABC News took over the ESPN stuff, CNN took over TNN, TNT, the WB and TBS, Fox News commandeered Fox Sports... and even The Learning Channel was showing the BBC. Even the Home and Garden Channel had put up an announcement graphic saying they were suspending programming due to the national tragedy.
As I'd written before in one of my stories, when I saw how many channels were controlled by how few hands... that realization alone was pretty frightening.
But there was one ray of light in the whole mess. On foreign viewpoints: TLC's BBC newscast reported that many people in New York were volunteering on the spot to help out... free water, helping others search for loved ones, offering a shoulder to cry on, first aid... the reporter on site had said there seemed to be a Dunkirk spirit among the locals, like the British civilian boating volunteers did when they evacuated their troops in World War II.
I have to admit, that did my heart proud. And in the week following, I'd gotten into the volunteer spirit. Helped out with a blood drive at my church. Donated to a food drive. Kept praying for the nation. And bought a flag or two for my car. (Once I found some at K-mart... they were sold out in my town for a while.)
And that's what I took away from that... that's what this now-divided nation needs. Remember September 11th... but also the 12th, 13th, 14th, and all those days onward. Those days when all Americans and their friends worldwide got together... red, yellow, black or white; rich or poor; Ph.D or G.E.D.; male or female; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, or something else; city slicker or redneck bumpkin; liberal sissy or right-wing caveman... and the perfectly conditioned athletes or, like me, fat slobs.
We need, love, compassion, unity, mutual support, charity drives, self-sacrifice... and resolve not to let the terrorists keep us scared or divided. And we need to get it back BADLY.
I just hope and pray America doesn't need another September 11th for that to happen.