The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Anyone born before 1996 most certainly knows where they were and what they were doing 22 years ago, this day.

My wife and I were getting dressed for work. I was at the bathroom sink when my wife called me over to the television. On weekday mornings we kept the little TV in the bedroom on, as we got ready, so that we could monitor the traffic reports. An accident on the Bay Bridge, even before six in the morning, could gridlock the entire Highway 80 corridor for miles, and late into the morning. We weren’t so much interested in the news. What could possibly be happening at six in the morning (even on the East Coast, three hours ahead)? How much havoc could Congress wreak at the beginning of the day?

Almost immediately, Cora called me over to the television. I stood in front of the TV to see a replay of an airliner hitting a skyscraper. I had no idea that it was the Trade Center. I blew it off as a freak accident and continued getting myself together. A few minutes later I heard Cora, “Oh my God.”

It was 6:03 and a second plane had hit another skyscraper and we were frozen, frozen with the rest of the nation and much of the world. And like the rest of the nation, we knew that we were at war. With whom, we didn’t yet know.

As we continued to get ready for work we wondered if we should even be going to work. Sure some people are essential; first responders, teachers, doctors, medical staff. Cora and I? Just office schlubs.

I went to work that day, as did Cora. I remember listening to the news all the way through the drive. Our son, who was at Santa Clara University, called me as I was rounding the turn on Highway 80 into Berkeley. He asked me if I’d seen the news and I responded that, yes, I had. We talked until I got off the freeway in Emeryville.

Much of the remainder of the day was, and still is, a blur. As the morning wore on, my coworkers and I were largely in the dark about what was transpiring. We spent much of our time on the phone with friends, family, vendors and customers, passing information, both real and pure speculation. Many of those contacts drifted from their offices as places of business shut down for the day. At some point, Cora, who was working at Clif Bar, in nearby Berkeley, called to say that they were closing for the day.

We stayed.

Not because we were dedicated, but because Dick Cotter, the owner of our company, a miserly, old skinflint, didn’t see the need. It surprised me, but at the same time I figured, ‘fucking par for the course.’ America was under attack, the biggest since Pearl Harbor, and he was afraid he might miss out on a dime of profit if he shut down for the day.

This was a day when people who could’ve been, should’ve been, with their families. We stayed all day long. Stayed and spent most of our time trying to glean whatever information we could.
“The Pentagon was hit,” came a report.

“People are jumping,” came another.

My son called to tell me that the South Tower had collapsed.

I guess it was my wife who called to tell me that the North Tower had collapsed.

And still we stayed. Stayed and shuffled our feet in place in the parking lot, looking up in the sky in vain, trying to catch a glimpse of the occasional fighter jet that screamed overhead, while we exchanged hunches and rumors. Someone heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was a target. Or maybe the Bay Bridge. What about the TransAmerica Pyramid? The Air Force was going to start preemptively shooting down airliners. Supposition mixed with uncertainty, mixed with fear, mixed with anger, mixed with the disbelief that we were not being told to go home.

Eventually we drifted out of the office as our eight hours were completed. One thing that stays with me about that day is that Cotter never relented. Sat in his office, like the old curmudgeon he was, probably forcing himself to remain oblivious to the tragedy that was occurring on the other side of the nation, all the while worrying if the events of that day might affect the bottom line.


The people of a nation clung to each other. We wept when we saw, either in real time or in replay after replay, the horrors of that day. And when we didn’t weep, we raged, wanting that eye for an eye.

Ten days later, we wept again, but for a different reason. The tears were a cathartic release as baseball returned to New York.  Every American was a Mets fan and every fan rose in awe and jubilation when Mike Piazza hit another, “shot heard round the world,” homering in the eighth inning to seal a win for the New York Mets. Baseball came to apply a salve to our collective wound.

As the events of September 11th were made clear, the best of what America can be strode to the forefront. We were all of one mind and one goal. We were one America that the world stood in solidarity behind.

Of course the worst also showed up, uninvited, as it is wont to do. Anyone who vaguely looked like they came from the Middle East was subject to verbal and physical abuse. Women wore hijabs at their own risk. Conspiracy theorists crawled out from under wet rocks, putting forth theories that the 9/11 attacks were part of an ‘inside job.’ Well, why not? In the internet age a conspiracy, no matter how abhorrently false and hurtful, is a good way to gain attention and fluff up your bank account.

We went to war in Afghanistan seeking justice and much of the nation was behind that.

And then?


George W. Bush mortgaged his post – 9/11 goodwill by waging a phony war on Iraq, and a nation that was of a single mind started to go schizophrenic.

As a two front war went on and on, a thing called ‘mission creep,’ creeped in. A war for justice, to root out the bad guys, turned into a futile attempt at nation building. I don’t know, maybe the people who thought that we could turn a nation with a centuries old tradition of feudalism, a place where, ‘empires go to die,’ could do what other nations had, for centuries, failed at. Is, ‘they meant well,’ a good excuse for waging the longest war in American history?


Where are we two decades later?

George W. Bush’s mythological WMD war sunk his presidency to a ranking somewhere around the mediocrity of Benjamin Harrison, and Zachary Taylor, who died after only serving for a year and a half. The once, so-called America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani is a sad, broken, hair dye bleeding, clown show. Sitting member of Congress and batshit lunatic, Marjorie Taylor Greene, has floated the idea that the Pentagon was never attacked on 9/11. Vivek Ramaswamy, an unapologetic demagogue and moderately serious presidential candidate, has hinted, without a hint of evidence, that federal agents were on the planes that crashed into the Trade Center and the Pentagon, hinting at the idea that the whole thing was somehow rigged. Because ‘rigged’ has become the watch word of bad losers and bullshit spreaders.

Today, gripped by a populist frenzy, we’re involved in a new war, a culture war, being waged by demagogues like Ron DeSantis and bloviating heads like Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones. America’s ultra-right is trying to rewrite history and the “land of the brave,” is now home to politicians and pundits who have no stomach for backing a nation that has been invaded by a war criminal, with some of those politicians and pundits actually backing the war criminal.


Our hearts are still full on the anniversary of 9/11. Cora and I watched part of the ceremonies in New York and we did briefly break into tears when two young boys read off the names of the uncles who they never met. I’m not usually down with the whole national anthem before a sporting event thing. Tonight though, before the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills played football, I stopped for the singing of the anthem and felt tears welling up.

Most of the time though, our hearts are only half full – or half empty. How can they be full, 22 years later, when we’ve become so jaded and divided. Certainly divided. Horribly divided. Families that, 22 years ago shared Thanksgiving dinner and held hands during grace, now can’t stand the sight of each other, largely because of a grifter who became president.

But the divide started before that.

Maybe it was in 2009, when a Congresswoman, Christian fanatic, and political nutjob named Michele Bachmann started something called the Tea Party. Its main goals were to kill the Affordable Care Act and to slash the deficit. By the time of its demise, the Tea Party had accomplished neither, but what it did do was to leave a legacy of hatred and division in politics. It sparked a wildfire of discord that, from where I sit, as I write this, may never be quenched.


Two decades after our allies went to war with us, who had our back, who lauded the strength and resilience of America and her democracy, are now wondering if we are to be trusted, if we will have their backs. They look at the events that have taken place since June 16, 2015, when a politically unsophisticated, reality show star and marginally successful, if not incompetent, businessman announced his candidacy for the presidency in a dark, racist rant. They look back at an administration that treated them with bellicosity. They must look back at the events since November of 2020, events which include an insurrection, a near coup, a litany of lies and conspiracy theories, and wonder just what has become of their longtime friend. Many of our allies have expressed fear that the 45th President will become the 47th President.

Every 9/11, we repeat the slogan, “Never Forget,” and while we keep the memory of the events of that day, we have let go of the America that was. If we haven’t forgotten what America has been and what it has stood for, it is clear that our collective national memory is faltering.

Twenty-two years ago I had no doubts about America’s survival. Twenty-two years later, I’m harboring plenty of doubts.

What has become of the America of September, 2001?

19 thoughts on “9/11, Twenty-two years later

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  2. We were talking about this yesterday – that we all remember precisely where we were as the unbelievable news started to filter through. At first I just couldn’t grasp how it had happened twice – only when the word “terrorist” flashed across the screen did I start to comprehend that it wasn’t an accident. Six years later, on a boat trip in Cyprus, the skipper went into a rant at us British and American visitors, telling us that Bin Laden and 9/11 was exactly what the world needed, to stop the greed and arrogance of the new world. There was silence among the passengers, on board a boat is not the place to pick a fight with the skipper, but it was all a bit shocking at the time, not my most comfortable boat trip ever. I wonder how people like him feel today, if indeed he was typical of Greek Cypriot attitudes.

    1. Paul says:

      ” … we all remember precisely where we were as the unbelievable news started to filter through.”
      My father told me stories about where he was on December 7th. I have my own, ‘where were you when’ stories; The Kennedy(s) assassinations, Martin Luther King, the Challenger disaster, and then 9/11. Is it just me, or are these ‘where were you when’ stories, becoming more frequent?

      “I wonder how people like him feel today, …” It’s hard for me to put myself in the situation of a man living in such a divided country with a history of being under colonial rule. I can say this, that I often admonish my wife when she speaks in Castilian Spanish to a person here in California of Mexican descent. Just drop the “th” I tell her. These grievances die hard and they’re passed on. That said, the skipper wasn’t exactly making a good business decision.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Sheree says:

    Great post – really thought provoking, partly because I’m not American. I remember the day well as we had staff meeting with a client that morning in one of the towers. Luckily their meeting had been pushed back and they were eating breakfast when the first plane hit. Mobile phones weren’t working so they walked to our offices in Midtown to let us (and their families) know they were okay.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Sheree,
      What a response. How lucky they must’ve felt. I wonder how they feel every September 11th. Blessed? Survivor’s syndrome? There are so many stories of people who for some reason or another weren’t in the towers that day. Anything from the sitter couldn’t make it, to the meeting was pushed back.
      Thank you for reading and commenting Sheree.

      1. Sheree says:

        My pleasure Paul. The company arranged for counseling after they returned to UK and thereafter seemed okay but you never know.

  4. mistermuse says:

    9/11 is equally “A day that will live in infamy” (as proclaimed by FDR on Dec.7, 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor). Now we are going through “An age that will live in infamy” domestically which threatens to destroy our democracy from within. Who would have believed, after all America has been through since its founding, we could have so abysmally lost our way.

    1. Paul says:

      Mr. M,
      “Who would have believed, after all America has been through since its founding, we could have so abysmally lost our way.” Certainly not me. Not many a day goes by when I don’t remark to my wife, “How did we go from electing the first Black President, a decent and competent man, to the clown show we’ve experienced for eight years – and counting.” (Or some version of that, complete with four letter words).
      Thank you sir, for reading and commenting.

  5. Anne Sandler says:

    I was on my way to a networking meeting that morning when I heard the news on the radio. My first thought was, “He wouldn’t go that far!” He meaning Bush wanting to get us into a war for various reasons including re-election. I’m not saying he orchestrated it. But maybe someone in our vast intelligence agencies must have had an inkling something was going to happen. I’m probably all wrong, at least I hope I am. Humanity never learns.

    1. Paul says:

      I’m sure there were countless immediate theories about what/who was behind the attacks. As much as I disliked George W., he seems to me, to be, at his core, a decent man. I can’t in my wildest dreams think that he would have allowed such a thing to happen. That said, I have no doubts that the 45th President would’ve allowed, if not orchestrated, such an attack just so that he could remain in power. As we have learned from one of the indictments and from a taped conversation, it was feared by General Milley that Trump was contemplating starting a war against Iran in the waning days of his administration.

      My recollection of the post-9/11 investigations is that our intelligence agencies let things slip through the cracks (a mild way of putting it, I guess), and there was a lack of sharing of intelligence between agencies that might have allowed the acts to be carried out.

      “Humanity never learns.” How very true.

      Thank you for reading and for commenting.

      1. Anne Sandler says:

        I’m hoping you’re right about Bush and I agree with you about our 45th President.

  6. Toonsarah says:

    I was in a management meeting at work in central London. One of the staff interrupted to tell us there had been a terrorist attack in New York and the Whitehall area (where most of our government offices are based) was being closed down for the rest of the day. I couldn’t understand why London would shut down because of an attack in the US, until we went into the admin office where there was a TV and saw the events unfolding. Most of the western world, and elsewhere, really felt for the US that day, but I suspect that the events of recent years may have, if not drained that pool of potential empathy, at least muddied its waters.

    1. Paul says:

      ” I suspect that the events of recent years may have, if not drained that pool of potential empathy, at least muddied its waters.” That sums up the fall from grace. The UK poured so much blood and treasure and resources into the resultant war(s) and the 45th President, as you say, drained the pool of empathy. Our “thanks” as a nation was to elect a bellicose con man who treated allies as tiresome flunkies.
      Thank you for reading and commenting, Sarah.

      1. Toonsarah says:

        Tony Blair was similarly discredited here for supporting the war – a shame as (I think) he’d been one of our better PMs until that point, with some very good policies.

        1. Paul says:

          It is a shame. My recollection is that Blair’s administration was by and large a successful one.

          Bush is another story. His administration suffered not only for the trumped up war but for the recession (which still bears his name as the Bush Recession) and his administration’s horribly botched reaction to Hurricane Katrina that was well documented by Spike Lee in his, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

          1. Toonsarah says:

            It’s true that Blair didn’t have those additional blots on his copybook but unfortunately today he is really only remembered for the WMD fiasco and the resulting loss of British military lives and aggravation of hostility towards Britain in that region

  7. I was headed out the door for work when Good Morning America’s cameras showed the hole in the first tower. Speculation was a small plane hit it. That seemed highly improbable given the size of the hole and the severe clear weather. Being a private pilot I delayed my departure to learn more about the inexplicable occurrence. The mystery as to what happened was solved when the cameras showed the second plane fly into tower two. It was clearly intentional.

    1. Paul says:

      I think my first response was that the first strike must have been a private plane. Clearly I thought, it was just a horrible accident.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  8. eden baylee says:

    After returning home from NYC today, I feel a closeness to what happened 22 years ago even more so. I was working in a mid-rise uptown Toronto building (12 floors) when the first plane hit. We had a conference room with several TV screens, normally showing the news of the day unless in use for a meeting. That morning, I got a call from my now-husband about a plane crash into the first tower. Other employees must’ve heard as well because pretty soon the entire floor was gathered in the room watching the news.

    I don’t recall the time exactly, but we evacuated our building some time shortly after noon. Most of the high rise financial buildings in the downtown core had already shut down by then. It was an awful day of trying to contact my family, some who worked near the towers.

    For days afterward, we were glued to the TV feeling helpless, yet … we also felt a “coming together” with our American neighbours.

    22 years may seem like a long time ago, but it’s not, really. How did things change so quickly, and not for the better? It saddens me is see the NYC skyline without the iconic towers where they used to stand—the empty space another sign of how fractured the world has become.

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