9/11: 12 Years Later


Every year, I look back at that day.   A day where as a country we found out our defensive abilities weren’t as strong as we thought.   A day where realism struck several homes and loss carried a whole new meaning.   Rolling Stones’ classic tune, “Paint It Black”, was brought to life in New York City.  A sunny Tuesday morning was painted black indeed and stayed that way for years.   I know where I was and what I felt, and its amazing to think that 12 years have passed since a few planes in the sky changed our country forever and set off a wave of connection, bad decisions, hot tempered wars, and a decade plus of abandonment.  I didn’t lose anybody close that day but I felt the impact of others who did.   What can you say to make it all seem like perfect sense?

As a human being, we all have the ability to feel the impact of death.   I see a list of names and instantly think of all the people who won’t be able to spend another minute with those people again.   Death is a son of a bitch because its final and often there are no clear cut goodbyes.  The lost souls from that day didn’t get the chance to call their loved ones.  Sure we have heard the tapes of ones who did but I always wonder how many people got voice mail as they sat in that burning building, doomed plane or dark staircase.  How many people simply had to hope they would be missed.  Imagine a funeral for them.   How many people would show up?  People who made a pact to lose weight, call their parents more, live it up were suddenly facing down imminent death.  All kinds of people were seeing the rest of their life flash before their eyes that day.  I do believe it happens before we die.  A carousel of clips from our life start to play and to the individual it will most likely seem incomplete.  Death is brutally final not just for the people who experience it but the hundreds of souls who had a connection to that victim.   Young people, parents, daughters, sons, sisters, uncles, brothers, friends, cousins and co-workers.   If anyone thought life couldn’t change in an instant, ask anyone from NYC about that day.   2,996 people went to bed on September 10th, 2001.   They didn’t get a chance to go to bed on September 11th, 2001.   That will never lose resonance with me.

9/11/01 has changed for me in the past 12 years.  I am a father and husband now.   When I awoke on that day in my dorm at Mizzou and saw the burning buildings, I was single and going through the motions of college.  I hadn’t met my wife yet.  I wasn’t tied to anything but unpredictability.  I walked to my Psychology class and they quickly sent us home to our dorms to engulf 1,000 different angles of those planes crashing into the towers, the constant updates, horrifying pictures and the buildings collapsing like a jinga stack.  People jumping from the towers.  Victims covered in ash.  Innocent bystanders acting like they have never seen severed body parts before or had the chance to smell burning flesh.  Survivors can probably be counted as victims from that day of chaos.  I watched it all.  I let it in.  Felt the emotions, anger and raging fury send shock waves through my body.  I didn’t have a one headed monster to get mad at yet.  We didn’t yet know Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind.  This wasn’t a movie with three neat acts.  The bad guy is presented and the good guys get him and normalcy is returned to the surface.   The bad guy didn’t get caught for nearly 10 years.   The good guys ended up losing over 46,000 souls if you count the related illnesses, loss in the war and so on.   The people who died that day were only the beginning.  Anyone who worked on the site, sucked in the smoke and horrible fumes, or spent time there looking for loved ones had their lungs damaged that day.   It was like coal mining if it involved finding dead bodies every 30 minutes.  Anyone who went to war after were victims as well.   I am all for starting a war when needed, but for some reason George W. Bush invaded Iraq instead of just going after Bin Laden, the man responsible.  We lost thousands of soldiers fighting a war many of those lost souls never understood nor did we.   I am not saying Obama would have done different its fair to say the toll from that day stretched out over years.   That’s change.

Now that I am a father, I think about it differently.  A lot differently. I can only imagine if I left one day to go to work and this happened and my son wouldn’t see me again.   Imagine how many fathers and mothers didn’t come home that day.  How much explaining had to be done to little kids, teenagers or older sons and daughters about what happened to their caretakers?  A shit ton.  A lot of words and tears.   I think about my wife Rachel not coming home and the impact that would have on my family.  I think about losing a family member too but when a loss affects your every day home, your inner circle of loved ones, that’s the scariest scenario known on this earth.  I don’t know what I’d do without my wife.  I don’t want to imagine staring down imminent death and wondering if I will never see my son again.  It’s horrifying and that is how I relate to those who were affected that day.   If you didn’t lose somebody, the event can still affect you.

In 2009, I went and saw the Dave Matthews Band at Wrigley Field.   It was harmless really.  I took a trip on the Mega Bus and stayed with my friend PJ.   Weeks later, after I got home, I would find out that a bomber was attempting to blow up that area on that very night.   He planted what he thought was a bomb right outside Wrigley Field and left, only to be detained by the FBI/CIA(I can’t remember exactly which) because he was set up.   Law enforcement gave him a different bomb, a fake one, because they were working undercover to take down this cell.  However, I imagine from time to time if that bomb was real and how that would impact lives around me.  I exited the building on the side the fake bomb was planted.  I wouldn’t have felt anything.  My son would have never been born.   This isn’t easy to write or for some of you to read but it’s in my head so here we go.  9/11 did this to us.  It made us painfully aware of forces outside of our control.   Every time a plane flies lower than normal, I look up.

I don’t think 9/11 was a conspiracy or a coup.  I don’t rule out the idea that the government may have ignored intel or looked the other way but I carry the belief that our country was caught with its pants down that day.   We were blindsided.  Defeated straight up by a smart, crafty mastermind who planned it for years.  People lose sleep and breath over convincing themselves that we weren’t simply attacked by an evil force that day.   I don’t think Bush had anything to do with it and I require evidence to change my opinion.   Buildings collapse with 80,000 gallons of jet fuel running down their legs.  It happened and it was committed by the most wanted man this country will ever know.   We were knocked down that day and of course when we got up, a lot of wild swings and emotions were thrown around.   Alliances were broken.  New fear was created.  Bonds were made.  And you know what, a lot of connection happened.   People did come together and help each other.  Odd couples became friends.

I believe to this day sports played a huge part in healing that city and as a whole, our country.   The Yankees winning emotional late inning games and going to the World Series.  Mike Piazza hitting that game winner at Shea on the night baseball came back.   Jack Buck’s tour de force speech at Busch.  When we are shaken by bad circumstances, we look to sports and movies as much as friends and family.   It’s an escape for the most tormented soul.   At our weakest, sometimes all we need is a game to watch or a movie to invest our emotions with.   Simplicity lies at the heart of therapy.  Just my take.

I always say this to people I know about what happened that day.   No matter the cause, terrorists or conspiracy, those 2,996 souls are never coming back.  Finality tromps cause and reason.  If it were a coup, those people are still dead.  If it was a simple act of terrorism, those people aren’t coming back.   No crime to solve.   All we can do is prevent it from happening again.   Prevent the new Freedom Tower and the fountains and memorial from being attacked.   The United States of America will be targeted for days.  Every day.   It’s our ability to prevent it that separates us from the grave.  Stop fighting about what happened that day and celebrate the men and women who sacrificed themselves then to save a life.   Remember the sacrifice that happens every day by the people serving in the armed forces.   The ones who serve thousands of miles from their homes so we can feel safe in our own.  I try to remember the first responders who went into the towers, pulled people out and didn’t think twice before running back into the buildings.   You could have told them the buildings were collapsing in 5 minutes, and they would tell you I can get somebody out in 4 minutes.   They are the true heroes.   Certain people become firefighters or cops and are kind of brave.   Others are willing to put everything on the line to save another.   That’s sacrifice.  The courage to run in when so many are running away.   That is what I try to remember on this day.

That’s all I got.  Keep living.  Respect the privilege that we have today.  Living is a privilege.  Death is a conclusion.  I’ll never forget what happened that day or the heroic deeds that defined it.  We aren’t perfect but I hold a belief that to this day there are more good people than bad.   I could be wrong.  I could be right.  I will never know.  I do know that when Vinny gets older I’m taking him to NYC to show him what happened.  Let him see the thousands of names on the memorial fountains.   Describe to him what real courage is.  Those are questions I will be ready to answer.   As a son, father, brother, and husband, that is my right.


Dan Buffa


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