Wednesday, September 11, 2013

12 Years Later

If you're looking for something about Princeton sports, you're here on the wrong day.

Not on 9/11. Never on 9/11.

Today isn't about Princeton sports, or anything else, for that matter. It's about remembering what happened not that far from here 12 years ago today, on the single worst day in the history of the United States of America.

So, no, it's not a day to talk about anything else. TB's fear is that if he stops, and everyone else little by little stops, then the horror of that day will recede from all of our minds, and that is something that can never, ever, ever happen.

TigerBlog has written this each of the last few years, and he'll repeat it each 9/11 as long as he can.

Sept. 11, 2001, was the worst day in this country's history. It was a day that changed forever how the country and the world think and operate. No day has gone by for any of us since then that hasn't been touched by the events of that day.

Everyone has a story from that day.

TB's friend Corey was flying here and was diverted to Nashville, from where he had rent and car to drive back. FatherBlog was in his office in midtown working and ended up having to walk a few miles to get to a ferry to get back across the river.

He knows one person who landed at Newark about an hour before the first plane hit the World Trade Center and was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike and could see the twin towers.

He knows another person who was in Ireland and watched in on television, wondering if it was real and then, when finding out it was, wondering what coming home would be like, or, for that matter, how in fact coming home would be accomplished in the first place.

He knows several people who were in the towers that morning. He knows one - former Princeton men's lacrosse player John Schroeder - who didn't get out alive.

TigerBlog's own experience was from a safer distance, and yet he was petrified by the end of the day, in a way he's never been before or since. TB considers himself to be a pretty laid back person, able to roll with the punches, able to be optimistic, able to always wonder "what's the worst that can happen."

Except for that night.

He stood at the end of his driveway in the darkness and looked up and the clear night sky. There wasn't a plane to be seen anyway, all aviation in this country having been stopped.

It was the eeriest moment of TB's life.

That Tuesday started out as a day of total serenity, with a bright blue sky, no humidity, pleasantly warm, the kind of day that is a reminder that summer is ending and autumn is just about here.

Miss TigerBlog was very Little Miss TigerBlog back then, having just turned one, and TB had to drop her off at her babysitter, about three miles north of Princeton. After that, the routine was to drop TigerBlog Jr. off at the University League Nursery School, across FitzRandolph from the Jadwin parking lot. TBJ was four.

As he dropped him off, TB heard the office manager for the school mention that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. As with pretty much everyone else when they first heard the news, TB's first thought was: "How is that possible on such a crystal clear day?"

The rest of the day isn't a blur at all. Each detail is right there, as it unfolded 12 years ago. How TB tried to get in touch with FatherBlog to make sure he was okay. How the only television here back then was in the Caldwell Field House athletic training room, where people from the department gathered in silence, filtering in and out, unable to watch it in large doses.

And then eventually it was time to go back and get the kids, first TBJ. And TigerBlog found him and his nursery school pals on the swings, oblivious to the fact that the innocence of their world - if not their childhoods - was gone.

Of course, there were a lot of kids in their age-group who had the innocence of their childhoods gone as well, the kids who had one parent or even two not come home that night.

And that night was so surreal, with the quiet of the neighborhood - and in the skies - and the inability both to watch the television and to turn away.

And with that, TB wants to rerun what he said here two years ago to the day, changing only the "10" to "12." So here goes:

TB wondered that night on the driveway whether or not the United States would be able to survive such a shadowy enemy, wondered what a post 9/11 world would look like, whether or not he could take for granted that Princeton University would still field athletic teams.

And then an amazing thing happened. The sun came up the next day, and the resilience of New Yorkers - especially then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani - began to inspire the entire country.

TB remembers one quote from Giuliani more than any other: "We will honor those who died by living our lives."

And that's what's happened.

If you asked TB to write down the best moments of his life, many of them have happened in the last 10 years.

As for Princeton, some of the greatest moments in Princeton athletic history have happened in the last 12 years. Today, Princeton is heading off into a new athletic year with athletes who were, what, in elementary school on 9/11?

One thing that TB has struggled with in these last 12 years is watching the events again on TV. In a world where it's so hard to separate reality and fantasy, TB has always felt it's somewhat voyeuristic and disrespectful to watch the planes hit the tower again, watch the towers fall, see the people jump out the windows because it was a better option for them - almost like it was watching a war movie or some episode of a cop show.

But the last few days, when TB has seen those images, it's served as the best reminder of the biggest heroes of that day, equal to the ones on the flight that crashed outside of Pittsburgh when the passengers fought back - the New York City police and firefighters who ran INTO the buildings, helping evacuate them before they collapsed.

In the aftermath, there were all kinds of fundraising events, including a huge one at Madison Square Garden. TB remembers a New York City firefighter who was on the stage and said his name and address into the mic and dared Osama Bin Laden to have the guts to come to his house.

TB heard an interview yesterday on the radio with one of the firefighters, a man who was trapped for 13 hours before being rescued. He talked about people he worked with who died, talked about the horror of the day.

Then he talked about resilience, how New York City came back, how the people got up off the canvas and went about their business and how proud that makes him.

And he's right.

It's been 12 years since the worst day in American history, one that left TigerBlog and tens of millions of others afraid about what the future would look like.

Twelve years later, the world has changed, but the American people haven't. They've lived their lives, as Giuliani said.

They've gone to work and gone on vacation and had children and sent them to college and gone to their weddings. They've played sports and watched sports and gone to the movies and gone to concerts. They've argued politics. They've cleaned out flooded basements and gotten sick and gotten better.

And every morning, they've gotten up.

It's 12 years later.

The terrorists won big on 9/11.

America has won big since.

No comments: