I got out of bed today, September 11, 2011, at the exact same time I did ten years ago. I know this because I did the same thing I did ten years ago—I turned on the television. It was 8:46 a.m. They had begun a moment of silence in remembrance of the very moment the first plane hit the North Tower. What a tragedy, I thought then, a terrible accident, as the folks on Good Morning America tried to make sense of it all.
And then the second plane struck the South Tower. I saw it—a plane streaked from the right of the television screen and slammed right into the other building. Everyone who had become glued to the television, by this point, saw it—9:03 a.m. At that moment, there came the collective realization that we were under attack. This was no coincidence. This was an act full of intent and malice.
I was angry. I was scared. My sons were attending Francis Scott Key School, dangerously close to Fort McHenry. Who knew how many planes were up there waiting their turn? What other landmarks would be targeted? I needed to get my children, to try and explain, as best I could, such an evil act—to protect them. I couldn’t. I couldn’t pull away from the stunning images on my television—reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon, another plane going down in Pennsylvania. The worst, of course, was the moment the South Tower collapsed—9:59 a.m.
It was at that point when I knew this would be a tragedy of unrivaled proportions. I spent part of my childhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, living in an apartment on Washington Street, right up against the Hudson River. I could see the Towers from my bedroom. Even then, I knew how many people inhabited those towers during any given workday. On that day, I knew that there was no way that building could have been completely evacuated in time.
When the North Tower fell, it was just the exclamation mark on a sentence written by a madman, a madman whose identity was not yet apparent. By the time I called out of work, unnecessary considering Baltimore was evacuating the Inner Harbor, picked up my kids, and returned home, speculation was rife about who the culprits were. When the name Osama bin Laden came up, particularly his involvement in The United States proxy war against the Soviet Union after their invasion of Afghanistan, it hit me that the chickens had finally come home to roost.
After the Soviets were expelled from Afghanistan, we left that country to its own devices. We abandoned them. We allowed the power vacuum to form that made room for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We had gotten what we wanted and walked away. Bin Laden might have designed the coffin, but we had dug the hole.
From that grief, however, came a ray of hope. Perhaps this would be the time America finally rose to the occasion. We could come out of this stronger, smarter, more united than before. When, a few days later, unPresident Bush spoke at Ground Zero, the nickname given to the site of the worst terrorist attack in American history, the unity I this country was palpable. Hope began to overtake the incessant grief.
It didn’t last long. The passing of the USA PATRIOT Act immediately smelled of government overreach with laws that seemed like they could be used to label anyone a threat and persecute them. We would later find out that, indeed, we snagged innocents with the net cast wide to capture our enemies, and we treated them poorly.
Less than a year later, word came that we were putting a target on Iraq. My hopes were dashed. I realized immediately that Bush & the Gang would use the tragedy of 9/11 for political gain. Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, at that point, and invading it was purely part of some ill-bred strategy to attempt to stabilize the Middle East. I even wrote a poem, lullaby, on the first anniversary of the tragedy, to reflect my disdain for Bush’s opportunism.
Ten years later and all semblance of unity has vanished. We are right back to dividing ourselves by any means—race, class, religion, morals. We are right back to pointing fingers at the other side as the cause of our collective problems rather than uniting to find solutions. The poor are still getting poorer, and the middle class is being squeezed like oranges to make juice. We are somewhat safer, but no more secure.
On the contrary, our country is in the throes of the worst financial insecurity since the Great Depression, an insecurity created by the unfailing greed of a few people for whom greed is their true religion. We may never see another attack like we did ten years ago today—Universe willing. However, that is not to say we are not under attack. Today’s terrorists are far more secretive than Osama bin Laden, far more insidious. They prey on the divisions they foment among us to distract us from the real dangers. But here, as well, I see hope. One day, we will all wake up to the terrorists among us. We will rise up. We will let them know that power lies not in wealth, but in the voices of the free.
Fernando Quijano III is the former President of the Maryland Writers Association, Baltimore Chapter. His work has been featured in Welter, Smile Hon, You’re in Baltimore & the poetry anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire. An excerpt from his unpublished novel, Forever, Lilith was included in the Apprentice House anthology Freshly Squeezed. He has been featured at the Baltimore Book Festival, Stoop Storytelling, & The Signal on WYPR, Baltimore's local NPR station. In his spare time, Fernando volunteers to lead workshops for Writing Outside the Fence, a program for the ex-offender community, as well as at the Brock Bridge Correctional Facility. Fernando was recently awarded a B grant for his writing by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund.