As we prepare to observe the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror
attacks, commentator and former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin is remembering where she was on
that day – and considering where we – collectively – are today.
"Ah, we’re almost half way there," I said to myself as I got up to
stretch my legs on the flight from Moscow to New York on September 11,
2001. A group of us were returning from a site visit to an environmental
project of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, an organization
which I had founded 20 years ago.
The pilot’s voice came on the air. "I wish to inform you that we are turning around due to a problem."
A problem? I am not a happy flier. I immediately thought of the worst. A mechanical problem. We might crash.
looked at the anxious faces around me. The flight attendants conveyed
no emotion. It seemed a very long three and half hours before we landed.
Where did we land?
Dublin, Ireland. Well, this can’t be that
bad. As soon as we deboarded, the word spread down the line of puzzled
passengers. All planes had been grounded. An airplane had crashed into
one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. My first thought was
that it was an accident. After we were bussed into town to a hotel, we
turned on the TV and saw the second plane crash into the other tower.
The full import of a terrorist attack began to penetrate.
wanted to go home and be with my family. I felt imprisoned by tragedy.
There was no singing in Irish pubs during the three days we were there –
everyone was focused on the television screen as it played and replayed
the horrendous scene of the tower crumbling and bodies falling. Each
day in Dublin one of us went to the airport to check on flights.
we finally got home there was relief, but not jubilation. The United
States we had returned to was different from the one we had left. Fear
had spread over the whole country like the dust that had settled over
lower Manhattan. A week later, I wrote in a commentary that we will
measure time as – before and after 9/11. Ten years later, that
observation still holds true.
The site of the destroyed Twin
Towers has been cleaned up but not rebuilt, the photographs of the
funerals are now in albums but not forgotten, the country has moved on,
but it has not healed its wounds. In the midst of the recent earthquake,
the first question was: "Is this a terrorist attack?" Fear – of the
unknown and the unexpected, has penetrated our borders and refuses to