I woke up very early on September 11, 2001 with a fever. Knowing I wasn't going to be any good to anyone that day, I called out of work, took some Tylenol and went back to bed.
I woke up again at about 9:45. I came downstairs, got myself some breakfast (I don't remember what, but probably a Thomas' bagel) and turned on the TV in time to see the first tower collapsing.
I thought I was losing my mind.
I think I called my mother at her job, next. She assured me that she was okay, and that yes, they had heard what was happening. I then called my sister, who works at a major TV shopping network in Florida. There are TV's everywhere there, and she said that everyone was simply glued to them, watching in horror, as I was. No one in my family even worked remotely anywhere near where the attacks were happening, but I was so freaked out, I had to make sure they were OK.
Like most Americans (indeed, most of the world), I spent that day watching the events unfold again and again, and crying incessantly. Eventually, it all became too much and I think I shut the TV off around 3:00 and slept some more, exhausted by the flu I had apparently contracted and by the horrors being replayed ad infinitum.
As time passed and people started posting pictures of missing loved ones all over the city, I spent more time crying for their losses. I knew no one who died that day (two friends who worked for different companies in the towers during the first attempt to bring them down, no longer did so), but witnessing the agony of those who had lost loved ones was almost too much to bear... Eventually, I just started watching cable to avoid the whole thing. I couldn't take it anymore and needed a distraction.
September of 2001 was... strange, to say the least. I (like every American) wanted revenge against those who had killed nearly 3000 innocent people. Of course, had I known then what atrocities would later be sanctioned by the war criminals Bush and Cheney, I might have felt differently. Had I known that over 5000 U.S. troops would be killed in the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would have felt differently. Had I known that George W. Bush was leading the country into the worst economy since the 70's, I would have felt differently.
9/11 now seems to me like a weird, distant, collective nightmare which we all shared. Since then, right-wing nutjobs have gotten louder and scarier and uglier, while the voices of reason are viewed as weaklings and traitors. People want to burn copies of the Qu'ran and vilify all Muslims for the actions of a few radical extremists and attack anyone who even appears to be Islamic, while Constitutional rights are opposed in the name of patriotism. Madness, it seems, simply begets more madness.
I don't pretend to have any answers to the problems America faces as we draw a year closer to the 10th Anniversary of the single worst terrorist attack on our soil. But I can offer this: Never forget that day. Never forget the lives that were lost and the bravery of the firefighters, police officers and airline passengers who gave of themselves that day. And honor the memories of those who gave their lives so that you and I are still free to express our opinions about that day.