September 10, 2013
Call it ADD, lack of focus or short-term memory loss. When it comes to paying attention, I’m challenged.
Ask me what I had for breakfast this morning, or what I wore to work yesterday or what I was doing five minutes before I sat down to start typing this column, and you will be answered with a blank stare. I will honestly not be able to recall those details.
In the year I’ve lived with my boyfriend, I’ve been to the grocery store exactly twice. That’s because after talking about what we’re out of for days, then writing it down and reminding me as I left the house to retrieve it, he would still field my calls from the dairy section asking what I needed to pick up. After responding, "Why are you in the dairy section? I’m lactose intolerant and we need toothpaste," a few dozen times, he figured out it was just easier to go himself.
But despite my inability to recall details, there is one day I remember with exact precision. I suspect we all do. And as I reflect on the events of 12 years ago, I can recall them with depressing accuracy. How could any of us forget?
On September 11, 2001, I was working in Chicago as a news reporter. I was interviewing someone in the Sears Tower when I got a page from my producer. It said: "Do you know anyone local in NYC right now?"
It seems archaic now, but 12 years ago smartphones weren’t mainstream. Mostly, we still got our news at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. not instantly on our mobile devices. Nobody was posting real-time status updates to Facebook.
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I didn’t think much of the message; I assumed another reporter needed a sound bite for a story and no one I knew was in New York on that day. Thankfully.
Not long after, my beeper started going off rapid-fire. "Get back to newsroom stat." I knew something terrible had happened, though I had no idea the magnitude yet. Then, alarms in the Sears Tower started going off. All 32,000 people inside were being ordered to evacuate.
Driving back to the office, I listened to the reports on the radio. The hijacked planes. The collapse of the Twin Towers. The ominous conclusion we were being attacked. The fear of not knowing what was next.
When I got back to the newsroom, normally a bustling place where people move rapidly and shout loudly, everybody was still and silent. Even the hardest and most-seasoned journalists were wiping away tears as they watched dozens of monitors displaying live video of downtown Manhattan.
A few hours later I was assigned to bring home the tragedy. My job was to find a local person who couldn’t get ahold of a loved one in New York. Or who had. I needed to find a family who was there on vacation, and speak to their family in Chicago who was worried sick about them. A mom and dad whose son worked at the stock exchange or had a daughter in NYC on business would work fine too. Basically, I needed to find someone suffering a little closer to home.
It’s a part of the job most journalists hate, and one reason I eventually left the business. But it’s necessary. Network coverage will always have more resources on the ground of a national tragedy. They are more connected, have better sources and technology and get accurate information faster. That’s why they work for a network. It’s futile to compete. So instead, you cover an angle they can’t.
But I was a young reporter and had not yet become callous. I couldn’t bear to track down people waiting to hear from their loved ones and report on their desperation. So I left the newsroom, half promising to return with a story along those lines. It didn’t seem to matter much, network was running 24/7. I had no immediate deadline.
I found myself wandering the streets of Chicago, halfheartedly looking for an interview. Instead, I found a priest.
In times of uncertainty, I don’t turn to God or any faith. I find it difficult to seek comfort in religion, considering religion seems to be at the root of most wars. You might disagree with that, but you’d be hard pressed to name a war started to further-advance the cause of atheism.
But despite being theology-adverse, I walked into Old St. Pat’s cathedral that day. I was far from alone. Hundreds of people were there, praying, quietly talking, consoling each other, grieving and crying. I sat in a pew and cried with them.
We cried because we were scared. We cried for the thousands who lost loved ones that morning. We cried because we knew this day was a game changer. Things would never be the same again — we would always be a little less innocent.
And we are. Though 12 years later most of our lives are back to normal, it’s a different kind of normal. The "new normal" we refer to when the TSA or Homeland Security or some other government agency instates a new policy at the airport designed to keep us safe.
Though I might not remember the details of what "normal" life was like before 9-11, I will always remember the day that changed it.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.