89. A new kind of quiet

Friday September 11 2020

Living within minutes of the Dayton International Airport means we live under a flight path or two. Sometimes a passenger plane passing over our sycamore trees will catch my attention and I’ll imagine the destinations of the travelers. Maybe there’s a guy preparing his notes for a job interview in Chicago seated next to an older couple finally heading for their long-planned trip to wine country. And certainly we expect a few of the obligatory businessfolk adding to their frequent flyer points, waiting for the captain’s permission to open their laptops.

And always, there will be people glad to have the TSA process behind them so they can settle into their too-small seats and engage in an old-fashioned armrest battle.

Normal people doing normal people stuff.

So sometimes I notice the planes as they pass through my personal airspace, but many times I filter out the jet noise. I just don’t hear it.

Except for that one time when the sound of engines had stopped humming overhead.

Sometimes it’s the thing that’s missing that grabs your attention.

For a few days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, all flights were grounded at the Dayton International Airport. Planes were bricked not just here in our modestly-sized Ohio city, of course, but all across the United States. Absolutely no international flights were to come into US air space until further notice. It was estimated then that 1.6 million people fly daily in the United States.  Other means of mass transport were temporarily cancelled as well, including Amtrak and Greyhound bus lines.

Besides the Dayton Airport, we are also near to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, which we used to jokingly call Ground Zero, and now we wonder why we ever thought it was funny at all. The afternoon of September 11, a sonic boom tore loud and wide through the Dayton metro area. For those who had never heard one before, like me, didn’t recognize it for what it was. It could have been an atomic bomb for all we knew and as I stood in the driveway of my suburban home, I looked along the tree lined street for any sign of smoke or a mushroom cloud or anything, really, that could explain the eardrum-pounding boom. There is still disagreement today of the purpose behind breaking the sound barrier in a populated area, which is a huge no-no in the world of military aviation.

“These are unprecedented times,” said all the talking heads. Prepare yourselves for the unknown and expect the unexpected.

And we did. In the days after, we came together as Team USA, buying everything from patriotic t-shirts to proudly displaying the nation’s flag from our front porches. We’re in this together, people.

There’s a post going around today about how we should miss the America we had on September 12. I don’t know if this was written by someone suffering from a case of revisionist history or actually a person who wasn’t around that day. But it’s wrong. So very wrong.

The day after the terrorist attacks was one of fear and uncertainty and came with the profound knowledge that just as the sun will rise, we’ll never be safe on our home turf again. A war was coming and our youngest generations didn’t have the living history to know what that meant.

September 12, 2001, was a bad day, as the one that followed it. After the first few days, we started to come together as a patriotic community. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, so long as it wasn’t from over there. And we stayed that way for a while.

Nineteen years later, we’ve lost all that. Or at least the core of it. My parent’s generation is all “do you remember where you were when you heard about JFK?” A tragic event that was in my lifetime, but I have no memory of it, being just a babe in arms. I don’t have an emotional response to draw on regarding the violent death of our 35th President.

My generation’s question is “do you remember what you were doing when the first plane hit on September 11?” (I was at The Iams Company office, crowded in a small conference room and holding hands with a colleague, Monika, as we watched our world change on a tiny television.) My son and his peers were in elementary school. Anyone younger will be missing the same lack of living history as I do with the JFK assassination.

Which brings us to today where “patriot” is used as a slur to represent a middle-aged white republican who wants to make America great again for his demographic. Heck, even the COVID-19 toilet paper hoarding is an example that we’ve moved from waving our flags “we’re in this together, America” to “Eff everyone else. I gotta take care of my own.”

Everyone agrees there needs to be change. But we are divided into so many different factions on where we should be as a nation, there’s little possibility of even a compromise of sorts to achieve the noble goals of peace, prosperity, and a safe haven from a fearful life. I don’t know where we’re going from here. That kind of socio-economic forecasting is for minds greater than mine. But I can’t see us ever going back to where we were in the months post-9/11.


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