Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?
This question reflects the consciousness of Americans, similarly to how the older generation asked, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?"
Pew Research shows that for President John F. Kennedy's death, 95% of Americans born before 1955 remember. For the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 97% of those who were 8 years old at the time have total recall.
Sept. 11, 2001, was a Tuesday, and the Pleasanton Weekly had been publishing for a year and a half. I was leaving late for work that morning because a contractor was arriving to begin a kitchen remodel at our home in south Walnut Creek.
"Did you hear the news?" he asked when we answered the door.
We had not, but we quickly turned on the TV and watched the horror unfold. The drive to work south on Interstate 680 was surreal as I listened to the radio and glanced at the other drivers in the light traffic, knowing we were all somewhat in a state of shock.
The paper goes to press Wednesdays and that week, for the issue of Sept. 14, the subject for the cover story was a Pleasanton couple, Ruth and Kurt McAninch, who were air traffic controllers. This story was no longer appropriate. Instead we combed the city for public displays of mourning, including the flag being lowered to half-staff at City Hall. The story on the McAninches was delayed a week and updated to reflect their feelings and new challenges.
My son was then 30, living in Berlin, and was flying that very day to New York City to visit friends. He woke up from a nap to hear an announcement that air space was closed over the United States. His was one of 38 jumbo jets diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, where they sat on the tarmac for 10 hours while the locals figured out the logistics of caring for their 6,500 surprise visitors. He was allowed one call that night, phoned us, and we in turn contacted his friend in New York and girlfriend in Berlin.
My daughter was at San Diego State and we were supposed to fly down that weekend, which of course was canceled. Now I wonder why we didn't drive down to be with her. Maybe things seemed too discombobulated with our son stuck in Gander and the whole world suddenly turned on end.
For the Nov. 9 Weekly that year, I wrote about Pleasanton resident Theresa Aimar who hailed from New York where her large extended family still lived. When she heard that Manhattan's economy was suffering, she rented an apartment on 59th Street and called out to family and friends to join her to go spend money.
She told me haunting tales of funerals everywhere, the absence of honking by impatient drivers, and the atmosphere near Ground Zero. National Guardsmen were everywhere, even on duty to protect inside FAO Schwartz.
New Yorkers she talked to asked if the news had been covered in California. She assured them we all regarded it as a national tragedy, not just theirs, and we were all suffering.
Although the terrorist attacks brought out the worst in some as prejudices surfaced, they brought out the best in others, as we sought to focus on our similarities and ways to keep peace in this new strange world. Interfaith groups hosted gatherings to foster understanding.
Sept. 11, 2001, was more than an event; it was the beginning of a new way of life for Americans. Normally "new beginning" is an optimistic phrase, but in this case the era heralded in unwieldy and intrusive security measures, unending wars for our military, new fears and a loss of innocence.
Our reactions to the events of 9/11 have drawn our attention away from problems we should be addressing, such as climate change and inequalities that include 821 million people going to bed hungry each night.
The number of Americans who have died of COVID-19 -- 189,000 as of this writing -- may far outnumber the 3,000 killed on Sept. 11, but both have been life-changing. The pandemic wears away at us day by day, while the 9/11 attack was a sudden and vicious trauma that we are still processing and mourning.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears in the paper on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.