And so, five years later, we are citizens still adjusting to post-9/11 America and still wondering how and if this war will ever end. The fight rages on, covering more fronts and battles than a great deal of us would be comfortable admitting.
On one hand we have the ground wars and manhunts that are dominating the headlines. High-profile captures and military prisons and invasions and huge expenditures and blood and guts and stuff blowing up right there on CNN Headline News.
On the other we have the secret war of attrition. The one of ideas and propaganda and money and favors and connections. The one that no one talks about because no one really knows for sure what, if anything, is going on with it. The one that we may never win; the one we may have already won.
The one for which we may never be able to discern any kind of end at all.
Five years later and some of us still tense up a bit boarding airplanes. Some of us have found ourselves on the wrong end of a terrorist profiling effort by law enforcement officials or some jerk from down the street or both. Some of us still can't figure out what can be so intense that it drives a person to kill himself for an ideology. Some of us don't like the fact that any bad thing can happen now in America, but as long as it terrorists weren't behind it then everything is going to be alright.
Sadly, we have been forced to change in ways we weren't ready for and, in some cases, weren't all that capable of.
I was camping. Joshua Tree National Park, to be exact. My first grown-up job was still a month away. In all honesty, I wouldn't have heard anything about it for a few more days if it weren't for those camping fees I had to drive down the road to pay that morning.
Like a lot of people, I didn't believe the radio broadcast at first. Figured it was an elaborate prank call on the Mancow Show or something.
Like a lot of people, it took me a second to figure out what was happening.
Like a lot of people, I cried some and called my family back in Illinois and a few friends too and wondered how this was even possible and holy shit and are you serious and who did it and what's next and is it over and what do we do now and is it even safe for me to come home and after a while I cried a little more.
Like a lot of people, this was all new to me.
Even out there in the desert, you could see people rising to the occasion. Cash, food, and blood drives popping up in every corner and parking lot. Flags flying from the overpasses along I-10. In Phoenix on September 12th, I watched a boy of no more than 7 years old hand his change jar to a Red Cross worker. Stories started coming out of fire companies all across the southwest sending trucks full of rescue workers on through the night to New York City.
For a moment, we all were allowed to shine even in the worst kind of darkness.
As with the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King and Elvis, and as with the moon landing and the tumble of the Berlin Wall and the horror at Columbine High School, the question will be asked of each of us as we slowly move further away from that morning:
Where were you on 9/11?
No one asks that other, more difficult question: Who were you on 9/11?
And who were you after 9/11?