Remembering 9-11: Things Have Changed

by Chris Martin ’98

Sunday, September 23, 2001

Washington, DC

Things have changed.

Though everything about the city announces this reality, today the sky serves as a reminder. National Airport’s well-documented proximity to downtown once produced a steady stream of airplanes that seemingly descended for landing right over our heads. Now, a single military plane laps the city, creating not the white noise of commercial travel, but rather a specific sound that no one can ignore.

When it loops over your neighborhood at 7:30 p.m. on a beautiful September evening, everyone stares. When you hear it again at 9:30 p.m., you mute Peter Jennings to get a better listen. When it wakes you up at 4 a.m., all you can do is pray for the nation before praying for a quick return to sleep.

My office sits seven miles from the Pentagon. Though hindsight reveals that this distance was miles from danger, at the time I experienced the thrill of terror. When reports broke that planes had slammed into New York skyscrapers, shock and dismay registered. Once they hit the Pentagon, panic kicked in. Is the White House next? Is the Capitol safe? I have friends working there. My dad has a meeting there today. Calls to them will not go through. Pounding re-dial does not seem to help.

Rumors and innuendo fill the void: a car bomb went off at the State Department; a low-flying plane clipped the trees surrounding the Capitol; arsenic taints the water; smallpox plagues the air. We all believed the worst. When those stories proved false, we all believed the worst was yet to come.

Twelve days later obituaries still fill the Washington Post. Some of them belong to family members of my friends. The President has repeatedly encouraged us to return to normalcy. That has been impossible so far, so a return to routine has had to do. But to this routine many Washingtonians have added embellishments. We light candles. We wave flags. We pray for our country and our enemies. We answer phone calls from friends and loved ones asking if we are okay, even as we feel odd for doing so since the worst most of us suffered was a day of fear and traffic jams. We go to church and worship and remind ourselves to trust not in chariots and horses.

But mostly we wait. And we cry. And we pray.

And then we cry some more.