September 11: Pittsburgh, PA

Editor’s note: After the September 11th attacks, I sent out a request in our eNewsletter. Here’s what it said:

"I haven’t been able to get away from the news for the past week, and I’m sure most of you feel the same way. Wherever you were, whatever you were doing, you’ll probably remember the specifics for a long time. But memories deteriorate.

While I often find myself begging (almost) for more contributions, this request is of a different nature. Please take a few minutes to reflect on the past week and write down your experiences. I want to know where you were, how you reacted, what you saw, what you didn’t see.

I want to know how this has affected people. I will try to find a way to share it with everyone; or no one, if you prefer."

What I received soon thereafter surprised me. I not only received more contributions than I expected, but I found myself coming to terms with things through the reactions of those who wrote back.

I encourage you to read each and every response, for they represent a fraction of what I received. Please remember that these are uncensored responses that might offend you. Read and digest. Perhaps it will help you too.

– Michael Browne, October 2001


By Karen Brooks

Pittsburgh, PA

It was a beautiful day, balancing between summer and fall, warm and crisp at the same time. A good day to find some excuse to leave work and go for a ride. It was a beautiful day, but transparent, showing the background of dust and ash and blood underneath the glass blue sky.

I rode in a terrible dream from place to place, through the unruffled surface of tree-lined streets and cheerful, modest houses. The blazing sun didn’t warm me any further than my skin. I glided along with sorrow as a sick stone weight, and with hate rising in my blood. I had hooked up a makeshift antenna to the old TV at the shop just in time to see the first tower fall. Those action-movie images were real; it was tranquility of this beautiful day that was a sham.

The few people at the bank spoke quietly of how they’d heard. We looked at one another carefully- more polite than usual- trying to be more helpful, thinking of all those other normal, everyday people who were no longer there.

At the end of the day I could only watch and listen and let the full extent of the damage sink in more with each sound bite of bad news. I used to think that the ‘40s in America were a romantic, exciting, noble time. The Greatest Generation had survived important struggles and come through stronger and with a sense of purpose lacking in my peers. But the test wasn’t as brutal, not as life-draining, as the broken nations in Europe had to pass; nor did the people I know who were part of it often share their darker experiences. Are we prepared to suffer a test such as this?

What had been a nightmare was made to come true, and what had been anathema was now a wish. Everyone has been irrevocably changed, galvanized by a lightning flash of violence; but into what form?

I believe there is no greater mistake than to end another person’s life, yet my anger seems enough to overwhelm my belief; what of others’? Is this the shot heard round the world for the next millennium? Who else among us will be dead before it’s over? I’ll think about these questions and more every time I see a jet move slowly across the sky.