There is something I can always get into a colourful discussion with, with just about anyone — especially other Scientologists, which is the curious question of, “Where were you on September 11th, 2001?”
Now that it’s 10 years after these disasters happened in DC and New York, I figured I’d revisit this. Unfortunately for those who were there, it’s generally known to the world as “the day the Twin Towers went down”. The Pentagon is generally a totally forgotten piece to the story, and I’ve come across many people (especially amongst friends on the West Coast) that didn’t even know the Pentagon got hit.
But when I look back on it, I don’t look back at 9/11 as a time of sheer horror – but instead as a time when my friends and I really had a personal re-awakening, and a honing of purpose with respect to helping others – and not just focusing in on looking out for ourselves.
My own September 11th story has a bit of color to it.
In 2001, I was with the Founding Church of Scientology of Washington, D.C. – amongst other things working in the area of personnel as well as on various promotional tasks. I lived in Falls Church, Virginia, and rode my mountain bike in to the Church’s location in Dupont Circle, DC each day. Anyone who knows DC traffic knows that it can be significantly faster to take a bike than a car sometimes, especially when the Pentagon is in full swing. I’d ride in each day partially on the road, and until the Pentagon Annex, and then would take the bike path down the hill, past the old Pentagon helipad, and then across the Memorial Bridge.
In any case, a few days before, on the 8th of September or so, I went up to the Church’s New York City regional office for some training. I was staying in a friend’s house in midtown Manhattan, and was all set to leave on the morning of Tuesday, September 11th when all of the sudden I was rustled out of bed by my friend.
“DUDE, GET UP! The World Trade Center just exploded!”
We raced up to his roof to see the plume of smoke coming from the first tower. Being on 43rd St, we couldn’t hear a thing, but could definitely see the smoke. Not knowing what in the sam hell was happening, we raced down to catch the news, just in time to see the 2nd plane hit the other tower. The rest unfolded like the rest of the world saw it, and both towers came down. Again, up on 43rd st, we could see it occur, but couldn’t hear it at all — so to us it was just like some terrible, awful movie.
Of course, being Scientologists, our first impulse was to go do something about it, so we raced outside to get down to the Church management building, so we could get organized.
The people outside were in a total daze. It was really terrible to behold. Like the entirety of New York had all just stumbled out of the same bad movie, in a complete disbelief of what had just happened.
Not too much later, the Church had started to organize up teams that were going to go down and start getting in there and pitching — something that has now become the stuff of legend. I was definitely urged to stay and get down there, but unfortunately most people in New York had already also forgotten that my home city had just been hit as well.
I unfortunately could not get out of Manhattan until Tuesday the 12th at about 6pm, as the entire island was entirely locked-down. The night of Tuesday, September 11th was one of the most surreal I have ever experienced. A walk to Times Square allowed me a view of something I will never see again this lifetime: a Vanilla-Sky-like view, where I could look all the way up and down Broadway, and there was not one single car on the road. Not one. It was a ghost town. The only thing open was McDonalds, and some hearty individuals were there sharing their stories and their friendship. It was a very, very different crowd than I’ve ever seen, especially in New York.
I got a 6pm train out of Penn Station the next day, stopping about 8 times on the way to DC so that the K9 search teams could go through the train cars looking for terrorists. I finally arrived back to DC that night, to see the horror that became of the Pentagon.
In addition to punching a hole through what the hard workers there had just spent years renovating, the bastard terrorists had just skidded across the same bike path I took to the Church every day — and had happened to blast through it at exactly the same time as I used to ride past it. So, I guess it was good that I happened to be in NYC at the time, or I would have found myself blasted into the side wall of the Pentagon, along with my bike.
But members of our Church worked hard to get folks in the area back on their feet following the disaster. I spent my next several months helping the Church build its corps of Volunteer Ministers, and then went on to do many more things to promote the cause of Scientology Volunteer Ministers world over. I spent days and nights getting volunteers to help in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunamis, as well as the more recent Haiti disaster.
For me, 9/11 was a wake-up call. It was extremely in-my-face demonstration that all was not right in the world. Obviously the answer to such things is not in fighting, in invading, or in creating a homeland-security-police-state terror patrol to constantly remind people that the terrorists are out-t’getcha. The answer is to dig out at the roots of the problem of what ails the individual, and make each person better and more able to take responsibility for their environment.
I don’t think I’ve gone a single week since then without applying myself toward helping my fellow man. What was your 9/11 experience?