Fifteen years ago, I sat in a glass and steel office building roughly 1/37th the size of a single Twin Tower. We were doing what people in office buildings do. Probably not all that much different from what the people in those office towers were doing in the seconds before they weren’t.
I shared a quad-design cubicle with three other people. We each had a corner. One was on the phone. One was chatting with someone else over the half-size wall. Another was diligently fact-checking some seemingly-important item in a catalog we were proofing. I was alternately emailing a friend and trying to stay awake while proofing furniture pages. No one sensed tragedy on the horizon.
I think sometimes we think we will. Especially those who endorse concealed or open carry as a means to stop “bad things” that come our way. We watch movies and TV shows with soundtracks that tell us when to expect men with guns to round the corner, when to expect explosions or fire or flood. Music we may not even be conscious of guides our emotions, heightens our senses, and makes us feel, in a strange way, vindicated when something awful happens onscreen. The bad releases the tension the music created.
Except, even if you walk around wearing headphones all the time, the music in your head isn’t foreshadowing the unexpected. It can’t warn you. It can’t make you ready.
Being ready requires honing instincts over the course of years, maybe even a lifetime. The main character in All the Bridges Burning, Davis, has those sorts of instincts, but I’m not sure anyone would argue they’d want to have lived her life to get them. Most of us don’t want to deal with the aftermath of having those instincts either.
That morning we all, gradually went from our normal office life to a state of disbelief, of numb, of fear, of hunger for answers… People with relatives or friends working in the area were desperate to hear from them. People who’d recently visited NYC got that look on their face that said they’d walked those streets not too long ago and what if their trip had been today. Managers walked around mindlessly reminding people to work even as their expression said they knew that wasn’t happening. Rumors spread as news did, as new targets were hit.
And yes, a few people did go back to working. Because they weren’t sure what else to do. Because we all have that sense inside us that if we’re doing what we normally do, bad things can’t find us. Generally, it’s a good plan — statistically, we’re pretty safe when we aren’t driving on the highway. Still, that morning, it didn’t feel that way.
In the following weeks, the anthrax threat emerged. The first case happened down the street from our glass and steel building in another very similar. So similar that one of our new employees said, in awe, as the details came out, “That was my last temp job. I worked in that building two weeks ago.”
And so today I am thankful for the days without the sky falling, without murderous powder in the mail, without gunmen disrupting a night with friends. I’m thankful for all of you who were in the wrong place that day. I’m angry for those who will not authorize assistance for those who weren’t.
Hug your loved ones.