If there is one aspect of my teenage years I will always be thankful for, it will be that I learned about the 9/11 attacks much the same way my grandparents must have heard about Pearl Harbor: through the radio.
Let me explain.
2001 may well have been the worst year of my life for many reasons. I turned 14 a week before the crash, and it was at that point (September 2-4) that the reality of death hit me for the first time in my life. Add to that the live burial in petty facts and busy work that was middle school (and, so I thought, the rest of life) and I was pretty much a basket case for the next week. September 11 was the first day I woke up feeling “normal”, that is, dreading pre-Algebra and Earth Science more than death. It was a good start, yet soon to end.
By coincidence, we happened to have the Chicago news station on in the car during the ride to school. I drowned it out, as usual. Then I noticed the announcer started talking on and on about New York, specifically of an accident at the World Trade Tower 1. Having no idea what that was, I drowned it out again. Mention of a second tower and then the first tower collapsing caught my hardened ear. Next thing I knew, the announcer was listing major road and building closures, not for New York, but for Chicago, a mere 90 miles away. That was the sickeningly surreal moment when I realized no one had any idea how many planes had been hijacked and where they were all headed. Even the radio station was in danger of being evacuated if one of the planes turned West.
The next few days I passed in a state of functioning shock. I saw the tower converted in to a torch in the next day’s newspaper and the video coverage that night. For a month, all the news stations could talk about was the attack, and as I spent several hours of my weekends in the car, I heard mostly the radio’s version of the story. About a week and a half after the attack, the radio began bringing us stories of courage, last words, and individual triumphs of recovery. At least half of the stories were personal accounts, told in the words of those who lived them, not in the words of an anchor as they often were on T.V. Four weeks in, if I remember correctly, those responsible for delivering the weekly Democratic and Republican radio addresses stopped talking only of prayers, candles, and unity and started to sling a little mud again. Even at 14, that was music to my ears. Life as we knew it began to return.
Radio commercials followed suit shortly thereafter. Loan refinancing pitches and offers to fly across the nation 4 times for 75 cents gradually gave way to goldfish jingles and goofy smart-person-dumb-person role play. They seemed much more clever than before, and I developed a whole new appreciation for their ability to get people buying and laughing again. By the end of the school year, I knew all of them by heart.
So on this tenth anniversary of 9/11, I will join in prayer and remembrance for the victims’ families and for the troops and firefighters who were called into action following the attack, but I will also say a prayer of thanks for that simple little machine that helped me realize the tragedy and recover emotionally without overwhelming my young brain with images: the radio.