September 11, 2001

We knew we had just witnessed thousands of deaths; we clung to each other as if we ourselves were falling. John Updike

It was a Tuesday, about 9 am, West Coast time, sixteen years ago today. For one reason or another I was in the kitchen of our Portland home. The TV was on: “We interrupt this broadcast for a special announcement.”

The sky was bright blue, not a cloud in sight and the North tower of the World Trade Towers was on fire. A plane was approaching the South tower. It wasn’t clear why until dark smoke began to fill the air and even then, I wasn’t sure.

Eventually we learned about the four coordinated attacks. The Pentagon was hit, a plane headed for the White House crashed in a Pennsylvania field, as the hijackers were overwhelmed by a group of brave passengers.

The towers fell, those who were lucky managed to get out, the dust and debris was everywhere and reporters were describing the chaos, hiding in building entry alcoves. Almost 3,000 individuals were killed in what remains the deadliest terrorist attack in this country. And it led to a war in Afghanistan that has become America’s longest.

Not everyone was waving the flag. Susan Sontag wrote: Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?

Anyway, that’s how I remember that day. I think I have it right. I wasn’t terribly upset other than being angry. But it wasn’t an emotional experience, the kind that is often incorrectly recalled on repeated occasions, a so-called flashbulb memory.

Right away I thought it was the work of Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist organization, al Qaeda. I thought we need to put an end to him.

Eventually, I learned how complex the plan was, the degree of training and preparation that went into the attacks, the skill involved. And I thought, if you will pardon me, what a clever guy he is.

The next morning, I went back to the open vantage from which we had watched the tower so dreadfully slip from sight. The fresh sun shone on the eastward fa├žades, a few boats tentatively moved in the river, the ruins were still sending out smoke, but New York looked glorious. John Updike