I was in Barrow for a children’s hearing when the planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center. For the first time in my entire career as a GAL, I was happy to have the hearing as a diversion. The alternative would have been to sit in front of the TV hour after hour, staring at the scenes of chaos and devastation visited on a city I know and love so well.
I was young in New York City. I was just out of school, working my first job and feeling as though the world was mine and mine alone. I was embarking on a journey of discovery as I started to explore and define who I would be as an adult. There is nowhere quite like New York City for that journey.
Going to the restaurant at the top of one of the towers was not something I would ordinarily have been able to afford. But some friends and I scrounged up enough money one day to go there for drinks. Dinner was way beyond our wildest imaginations. Drinks alone would mean peanut butter and crackers for dinner for a long while to come.
We thought we were sophisticated and jaded New Yorkers despite the fact that not one of us had yet celebrated our 25th birthday. Looking out from the top of that tower to the landscape below wiped out that sophistication in about 3 seconds.
The view from the top of the tower of the World Trade Center was like no other view in the world. The clich� “All the people looked like ants” doesn’t do justice to how small they looked. You could scan the horizon and see Kennedy Airport out on Long Island. You could swing your gaze around and see most of northern New Jersey – about the only way that section of the world is actually pretty enough to view.
But most of all, you could look out at the city that epitomizes the strength, vitality and worldwide status of our country, laid out in front of you like a miniature town your dad built for the train set at Christmas. And then all the jaded sophistication faded away and was replaced with silent awe.
The terrorist took a lot from us when they destroyed those towers. They took away lives, innocence, safety. They took away a part of my youth that I now can only clutch close to my heart in memory. There will be no going back to revisit those scenes and once again be awed by the vistas.
As I boarded the plane Friday to return to Anchorage, I found there was something else that the terrorists had taken from me. Something I hadn’t even noticed was missing until then. They’d taken my trust in my fellow man.
I found myself scrutinizing every passenger in the terminal. I watched every person on the plane wondering if they were only pretending to be one of “us”. Being as the plane was from Barrow, the first segment from Barrow to Fairbanks wasn’t as scary as I was anticipating since I knew many of the people on the plane. But there was that one man who kept bouncing his leg up and down nervously and he did have a dark complexion. I found myself watching him closely.
When the plane reloaded in Fairbanks, panic really set in. I didn’t know these people. I couldn’t trust these people. It felt as if I couldn’t trust anyone. Although I make it a habit of putting my face deeply into a book to avoid conversations with strangers when flying, this time I gratefully engaged in conversation with someone I knew slightly from Barrow. Anything to keep my attention diverted from the panic that was building in me.
And then I realized that if I let that panic win, then I was ultimately validating the despicable actions of those terrorists. They couldn’t win without my cooperation and I was giving it to them. I was scared. I was suspicious of everyone. I was becoming their accomplice.
But now that I realize what their real goal was, I have this message for them. No way, no how, am I going to let you win. America was built on the belief that we can live free in a society crafted by laws and common sense and courtesy. Our journey on this road has had its fits and starts. We have sometimes been more successful than at others in achieving the dream our Founding Fathers expressed in the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
But we have never stopped reaching for that goal. And we never should. I may not be able to do much in the dangerous times ahead but this I can do. I can commit myself to never letting them win by never sacrificing the foundations of this country for an illusion of temporary safety and security.