Six years ago I was in the basement of the Jaffrey, N.H. police department, going through the weekly incident log with the chief. One of his sergeants ran in with the news that a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers. We watched the shaky footage on a small television mounted in the ceiling corner of the officers’ break room.
There was no television in the news room at the Peterborough Transcript, the rag-tag, family-owned weekly newspaper I worked at. I asked the publisher what we should do. There was a thick sense in the air that we needed to be doing something else at that moment. He shook his head and went back to the emotional news reports on the radio.
I drove down to Peterborough’s high school. Most of the students were crowded into the library where they sat silent and shocked as they watched the news from several televisions that had been set up. I just began talking to them … what do you think is going on? Are we at war now? Do you know anyone in New York City?
I will always remember that it was a Tuesday because the newspaper came out Thursday, meaning we would spend Wednesday writing the last of our stories and then lay the whole publication out, which we were still doing using a laser printer, industrial wax, razor blades and light tables. The publisher sat down the other reporter and I (our third reporter was on vacation) Wednesday morning and announced that the whole paper that week would be about Tuesday’s attacks. We were each given four or five new stories to research and write. Somehow, we got that paper out on time.
Being a reporter on Sept. 11 allowed me to focus on the work, which seemed vital and necessary, and avoid the large and messy emotional questions that the attacks raised in the hearts of many of my friends and family members.
Last summer I made my first trip as an adult to New York City. I had only seen the city in movies before. I didn’t intend to find myself at Ground Zero on a Friday afternoon in late June, but that is where I ended up and it was there and then I understood the size of the event that would define everything that has happened over the last six years.
Peaking through the tarp-covered fence, twisting my neck and squinting my eyes for a proper view, I scanned the dirt and the machines in the hole for something meaningful. I watched the past as a rerun through a broken viewfinder and I think I understood then, but needed to see more. I needed to see all of it with my two wide eyes.
And all I could ask myself, as I walked back toward the life and heart of the city, was, "Why won’t they let us see it?"