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Robert Barron column: The day the Earth stood still

It was one of the strangest days of my life
Robert’s column

I remember at about 6 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the phone was ringing in my home and it woke me up from a deep sleep.

I was wondering who would be calling me so early in the morning.

I considered letting the call go to my answering machine, but I figured it must be important or whoever was on the other end of the line would have hung up long ago.

So I stumbled out of bed and headed for my phone (this was in the days before cell phones were common) and heard my father telling me that “they’re blowing everything up”.

Half asleep and wondering if my father was pulling some sort of practical joke (he was known for such things), I asked who was blowing what up.

He told me to turn on my television and see what was going on.

What I saw in my screen took my breath away.

By that time both of the Twin Towers had been struck, reports were coming in of an explosion at the Pentagon, and all aircraft except military ones had been ordered out of American air space.

Coincidentally, I had read of plans of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who were little known at the time, to hijack commercial aircraft and slam them into buildings in the U.S., so I figured correctly that the terrorist organization had obviously decided to move those plans forward.

I sat there transfixed and unmoving in my underwear as the events of that awful morning continued to unfold for some time before I remembered it was a work day and I had to get dressed and leave soon.

I got into my car and turned the radio on and didn’t find the normal morning chatter of the DJs and music that I was used to hearing on any channel that I tuned to at that time of day.

The events in the U.S. were all any of the radio stations were talking about, and one morning personality suggested the attacks could be a mere distraction from a more serious attack that could begin at any time.

That thought chilled me to the bone and I began looking up into the sky to see if there was anything suspicious flying around up there.

I was so disturbed by what was happening that I even began thinking about how far away Vancouver was in case a nuclear bomb was dropped on it.

Judging from the faces of the other drivers I encountered on my way to work, it seemed they must have been thinking along those same lines.

When I got to the newspaper office, all of my colleagues were gathered around the television in the newsroom and were just staring at what was happening.

By then, unbelievably, the first tower had fallen creating havoc in the streets of downtown New York; the explosion at the Pentagon was confirmed to be an airplane crash, and contact had been lost with a fourth plane that appeared to be on the way to Washington.

I remember thinking this was getting worse by the minute, and then the second tower came crumbling down in a heap of smoke, fire, dust and debris.

Most of my colleagues just stood there wide eyed with their hands over the mouths, while my obviously infuriated editor banged a desk hard with his hand making everyone jump and yelled “we’ll get everyone of those b…… who did this”.

What was also unreal was, while the world seemed to coming apart at the seams, I still had a job to do and I had to call people to gather information on local stories that I was working on for the next day’s edition.

But everyone I called that I could get in contact with during that insane and scary day could not focus on the questions I was trying to ask and wanted only to talk and speculate about what was happening and what it all meant.

I figured the best thing to do was to find people in the local community that had connections in New York and Washington and interview them for the next day’s paper, but that was mostly unsuccessful because those people were trying to digest what was happening like the rest of us and were hard to contact.

We ended up having to use a lot of wire copy with the latest updates on the situation in the U.S. to fill up the next day’s paper, but that’s pretty much what everyone wanted to read about anyway.

It was one of the strangest days of my life.

The world has not been the same since.

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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