Editor’s note: This is a reflection piece by abc27 reporter Seth Kaplan.
Everyone old enough to remember — it has become cliché to note — remembers where they were when they heard about the 9/11 attacks.
I remember something else even better: the last moment before I knew.
I’m a writer, so I feel the need to write something today, even though a dirty little secret of journalists is that if we’re not covering a particular story, we often know little more about it than everyone else. Sometimes less, if we’re busy covering something else.
I didn’t cover 9/11. I’m old enough that 9/11 was after the first time I left the news business before realizing journalism is not what I do; it’s what I am, and there was no sense fighting that. (It’s good that I tried to leave, because nowadays, even on my craziest “Why in the world do I do this job?” day, I know exactly why in the world I do this job.)
So I’m among the couple hundred million Americans who — let’s be honest — share some degree of what you might call collective survivor’s remorse. We weren’t in New York or Washington or Shanksville that day. Maybe we knew someone who knew someone, but on one of our country’s worst-ever days, we didn’t personally lose anyone. We talk about how life changed because we feel it’s what we’re supposed to talk about — and we’re not wrong — but other than for people who worked in specific professions or traveled frequently by air for work, everyday life a month after 9/11 wasn’t so different from before. At least, not in tangible ways.
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What did change was — sorry, here comes another cliché — our collective loss of innocence. People a generation older than I am say they lost theirs after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Two generations? Pearl Harbor, 1941. The 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger was my first everyone-remembers-where-they-were national tragedy, but that one was an accident. For those of us under 60 or so, 9/11 stands foremost among evil events (and please let it forever remain so).
So although I have the same 9/11 memories as a hundred million other Americans — everyone gathering around the conference-room TV as I arrived at work; calling my dad, who hadn’t yet heard, to tell him to turn on the TV where he worked — what I remember most of all is the last moment before I knew.
I took a bus to work in Miami each morning at about the same time, so I often had the same bus driver. And because my stop was near the end of the line, when few other passengers remained on board, I would chat with that driver and had gotten to know him just well enough to know he, like I, was a baseball fan. As the bus emptied of other passengers, we would talk about baseball. That’s what we did that Tuesday morning.
And for me, that’s the part of the day I remember in slow motion: The bus stopped a few minutes before 9 a.m., and the door opened. We told each other to have a great day; we’d see each other someday soon. (Half of that turned out to be true: We did see each other someday soon, on the bus other mornings that week.)
I crossed the street and walked into work a few minutes before 9 a.m., thinking about baseball, unaware — for that last blissful moment — of what was happening. And without the imagination to know it could happen.