I was a toddler when John F. Kennedy was shot, but it affected everyone around me so profoundly and dramatically shown on our black-and-white television that it continues to be etched in my childhood memory. I always wonder if my children, the youngest only five years old on 9/11, will also be haunted by the horrific visions of that day for the rest of their lives, as am I, or are they so bombarded by media nowadays, that it won’t affect them the same. How could it? How could they know what we lost that day? The concepts and delusion that we, the United States of America, the land of the free, are the most powerful country in the world; that we were untouchable; that our children, and their children are safe from the chaos of the world’s zealots. Here in the United States of America, those zealots can protest, run for government office, and manipulate the media to push their ideals, good or bad, to the masses. Elsewhere, it may have been a different story, but that seemed somewhere far away, until 9/11.
It hit me hard, like a two-by-four upside the head. I was working for an India based technology consulting firm at the time and although my co-workers and friends were as shocked as the rest of the world, they’ve seen acts of terrorism before in their country. Suddenly, the armed soldiers at airports, seaports and tourist traps in every foreign country I visited in my youth made sense to me. We see them here now, too.
Once my initial shock subsided, I thought I could look at photos, documentaries or even movies about 9/11, but I couldn’t and I still can’t. In my youth, having grown up in the 60s and 70s, I learned to denounce war and instead chose to be a hippie child. My young idealistic view of the world was that we should focus on protecting what we have at home, and not “whatever” in a country few have ever heard of before. I swore that if I was ever drafted (highly unlikely at ten years old), that I’d run to Canada, pledge an allegiance to the imperialistic revolutionary running dogs (whoever they were) and preach about peace, love and togetherness. I would fight for my life, only, if they ever attacked us at home, like Pearl Harbor (big on Social Studies that year) and World War II. As a child, I was so anti-war, anti-military, and all about peace, before I knew what it all meant, and that same mentality spilled over into my teen years (70s), and was buried into my unconsciousness in adulthood, while being too busy with life, liberty and the pursuit of the American Dream.
Well, many years later, that security that was ever growing in my subconscious as I grew older, was shattered in a single act of terrorism on 9/11. I remember people trying to tell me what was going on, but I was in denial. I was busy working and didn’t have time for such nonsense. The Internet was jammed, and at a standstill, all the television stations suddenly stopped their normal broadcasting and in a blink of an eye, the fortress that I believed my country to be was smashed. Sure, the United States of America has its problems, its deficit, its slue of corruption, deviates and issues, but we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are the strongest, most powerful country in the entire world, and no one would be crazy enough to punch us in the face on our own playground.
I recall people going home to be with their families, and parents picking up their children from school (as did my wife at the time). I was in denial. I worked all day and wondered why people were looking at me funny. I wanted it to be just another secure, safe day, but it wasn’t. Everything changed, not just for me, but for everyone.
What could I do? How could I give my children a small inkling of the untouchable strength and security of the United States of America, that I believed this country had (real or imaginary) prior to that day?
I wanted to do something. I wanted to go to a survivalist store and pick up supplies and go hunt down Bin Laden and hurt him. I wanted to strangle his twisted, zealot throat. Rambo I’m not. I was too old to join the military, and the responsibilities at home made that impossible. Years went by and the fantasy of contributing anything to the safety of this country, and its people, fell to the wayside.
In 2005, I was given the opportunity to join the Chicago homeland security initiative focused on potential terrorist targets throughout the downtown area. This was a very innovative approach to digital video surveillance using high-end security cameras and equipment interconnected on a redundant fiber optic ring, with centralized storage for video forensics, redundancies and failovers (in the event that one of the locations was destroyed) and video analytics.
The technologies were exciting, and allowed my experience with digital video, networking, wireless, software, mechanics and electronics to converge into a single project. I’ve enjoyed being part of the team, even when discussing malevolent topics such as full functionality if whole skyscrapers were to fall. I’ve contributed and learned, and have grown along with the project and its many offshoots.
Recently, I was invited to take my experience and work with New York City on their Digital Video Surveillance and Security projects. I was commuting to New York every Monday and Friday for months. Although this isn’t the first time I’ve ever been to New York City and/or Manhattan, it is the first time since 9/11. During my travels, I stayed in the downtown area, walking distance to the Counter Terrorism Bureau Lower Manhattan office. It’s been a decade since 9/11, so “Ground Zero” is a construction site of giant cranes, scaffolding and closed streets. Throughout my first month there, unbeknown to me, as my mind was focused on the overwhelming projects at hand, I’ve stayed across the street from where the Twin Towers once stood, and the nice, clean hotels where I lived out of a suitcase, with their scaffolding, were recently renovated, because of that dreadful day. That thought finally hit me on May 1 , when the Nissan Pathfinder was discovered in Times Square, where I was doing a site survey, just the day before.
When I returned the next week (flew home for the weekends), I was in a New York Deli where I saw these two photo enlargements gracing the wall. One was of the Twin Towers, burning, and smoking, the other was of a NYPD police officer leaning against the deli counter, head down, eyes closed, covered head to toe in gray dust. He was holding a Gatorade in one hand.
That’s when it hit me. It was at that very moment when I suddenly realized I am doing something to help my children, everyone’s children, to feel safer in this new United States of America. Somehow, either fate (or a relentless subconscious pursuit since that horrific day), has given me the opportunity to ward off complacency and “do something.”
I was helping. I am helping. I may never be able to give my children the idealistic view of the United States of America that I perceived as a child, because I can’t change the past, but I can contribute in changing the future, even if what I’m doing is just dropping a DVS pebble in a pond.
My time as part of the New York City project was one of the most monstrous workloads I ever encountered, within an environment of high intensity soaked in an intimate sense of urgency, and the overwhelming project plan pulled me into many directions at once for very long days, but it was worth every New York minute because I was there, contributing to protect what is still the Greatest City in the World.