It’s September 11, 20 years later.
Two decades. Four presidents. The emergence of social media, and the continued erosion of trust. The gradual rise of China. The revelation that Russia is not our friend. A financial near-collapse. The hardening internal divisions, spurred on by Russia’s manipulation of social media. The unending war, with fuzzy edges, against an ideology that transcends borders and seems to dig in deeper the more we attempt to blast it. The digitization of all of life. A viral pandemic.
My own kids, little bitty at that time, all up and out, in college or starting careers. All that time watching ballgames, going to parent-teacher conferences, over. My mom, gone. A new life. Changes coming faster every day.
A whole generation.
And yet it seems like yesterday.
I cannot believe so much time has passed. I cannot fathom that the freshmen in college at K-State were not even conceived yet when those planes hit those buildings. All those changes, they never knew life before them.
I cannot really accept that I’m the only one left in the newsroom of the Manhattan Mercury who was here at that time. There are others who’ve been here longer — Tammy Yeager of our ad sales staff; Brian Carter, who does most of everything around here now; and my dad, who remains my boss. We have new colleagues, excellent ones, some with memories that go back that far. Many who don’t.
I remember exactly what I was doing: I was in the Mercury newsroom that Tuesday morning, a morning like any other, when the bulletins came across the syndicated news services that we subscribe to: The World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. We turned on CNN in Bill Felber’s office. We watched the other plane hit. We watched a tower collapse. We had no idea the broader context that we know now.
“Felber, the other tower just came down,” I said at one point later. “OK,” was all he said. No shock, no emotion at all. By that point in the day, there’d been so much shock that there was none left. It was just: Fact. It was happening.
Only years later would the enormity sink it. That was when I walked around Ground Zero, visited the museum, watched the documentaries, read the newspapers and the books, listened to “The Rising.” You stand where those towers stood, looking up, imagining, and you begin to get it.
But we had to figure out what that meant for our town. What does this mean, right here and right now? Planes were grounded. Local people had connections to the tragedy, and we needed to find them and tell those stories.
We’ve told them. We’re still telling them. In fact, what we do every day is fundamentally the same. We use different tools to create and produce the medium by which those stories get delivered to you. And the business model that underpinned the whole enterprise has changed radically, creating new opportunities and eliminating others.
So much time, so many changes. So fast.
And yet, it’s still so shocking, so completely unfathomable, that it feels like it just happened.