In some ways, it seems like yesterday. In some ways, it seems like 10 lifetimes ago.
It was in the morning, and I was just about to jump into the shower. At that time, I worked afternoons on WFLA in Tampa, Florida. My big, huge box television, a Sony Trinitron, was on really loud in my house in Velrico, Florida.
I was in the bathroom, and I heard the Today Show say it looks like a small plane has hit one of the twin towers. I came out in my boxers with my toothbrush, and I said out loud as if Katie Couric was somehow or another going to hear me, That's not the hole of a small plane.
I quickly jumped into the shower because I knew whatever it was that we had planned to do that day was about to change. But I thought, This plane thing will probably change today, and it will be out of the news in a couple of days. I jumped into the shower, and I got out. I'm listening, and I hear a second plane hit. And I called Stu, my producer at the time, and said, Stu, we're at war. We need to get to the studios.
As I drove, with unnoticed mismatched socks and wet hair, we heard the towers collapse. I stepped on the gas, and I thought to myself, Who? Who would want to kill -- how many people are in there? 30,000? 100,000? It's two vertical cities. Who would want to kill 50,000 people? For what reason? What have we done? Who are these people?
I had forgotten that in '98 or '99 I was on the air at WABC in New York City, and out of frustration one night -- and anger -- I warned the audience that within a decade, Osama bin Laden would act on his promise of death, and there would be blood, bodies and buildings in the streets of New York because we were so focused on left and right politics, that you can't even see the truth right in front of you.
What I had talked about earlier in that hour in '99 was Osama bin Laden's promise in the '90s to do to the U.S. what was done to the former Soviet Union --- and that was divide, demoralize and collapse it from within, and exert pressure from without.
That day in 1999 when I was on the air, my conservative audience was angry with me because I was defending Bill Clinton's airstrike on the aspirin factory. Do you remember that? The aspirin factory was bombed, and everybody was saying, He's just trying to do this to get his name out of the headlines because of the Monica Lewinsky thing, and all you're trying to do is excuse him. All you're trying to do is help the Democrats win in the next election." And I was like, No. Will you please listen to the words of Osama bin Laden. I didn't even know who this guy was until we bombed the aspirin factory. And then I went and I read his words, and I'm like, Oh, my gosh. Yes, we should kill this guy.
And the president's detractors at the time, I mean, they were saying that Bill Clinton would only do this to distract him from his sex and perjury scandal, and it didn't take a vast right-wing conspiracy to believe he would do that because he had so soiled himself, if you will.
The Clintons had done enough to increase the fog of the partisan war that you could no longer see anything. Most of what I heard that day was that nobody knows who Osama bin Laden is. This guy's a nobody. And we're the United States of F-ing America. Like that guy in a cave is going to do something to us. You're just trying to get Al Gore elected. You're just trying to excuse Bill Clinton. You're just whipping up fear to help the Democrats win the next election.
Boy, some things never change. The fog of partisan war --- George Washington warned us about it. It stopped us from seeing the attack that would come just a couple of years later.
Back on September 11th, 2001, I didn't remember that episode of my talk show on ABC. It wasn't until Osama bin Laden was mentioned as the mastermind that later Stu and I looked at each other and said, Wasn't that the guy we talked about at ABC?
Once I heard that, I knew our life was going to change for a while. But we would make it, if we could just stay together and stay awake. But I knew somehow or another this was going to be harder to solve than just war. It was bigger than just killing those in caves who were responsible. I think all of us knew somewhere inside, This is going to change everything. And it did.
Our kids don't even know the America that we knew. They don't remember how free we really were. How secure we actually felt. How innocent and ignorant we were table to easily remain. How much we trusted each other and how much we trusted our government. How much we thought, Oh, that stuff will never happen. Our kids will never understand that. They will never see it because the world won't go back to that.
In a time where we would have never put up with someone telling us that they were going to search us so we could get on to an airplane, in that time, Snowden was a child. But if he were an adult and he would have done what he did back then, if he would have exposed the government for spying and eavesdropping on American citizens, we would have been outraged by his revelations, and I think we would have declared him a hero.
But as I typed out these thoughts the other day, the world has changed so much, I used my fingerprint that I gladly gave to Apple to type it out.
I remember the days following the strike, the skies were so quiet. There wasn't a plane in the sky, except that I lived by MacDill Air Force Base. And I remember the stealth taking off.
We didn't know that the government was flying the Saudis out and the Bin Laden family out of the country. We just assumed that any plane we did hear was a fighter protecting us. I remember watching Congress holding hands and singing hymns together. And I remember foolishly thinking, Wow, we're all alike. We all believe the same things. Look at us. We all believe that this is the greatest country in the world, that our Constitution is worth defending.
So much since 9/11 has been lost, but little did I know that our faith in each other, our faith in the basic ties to one another would be the hardest and the last domino to fall. The idea that we all didn't love America, that we all didn't think that the Constitution was inspired and sacred. I thought we all knew that it was the combination of business and government and money that was bad --- not wealth itself, not the rich themselves, not even the political system --- but the combination of all of those things: business and government and greed.
I really didn't think we saw color anymore, and I know we didn't on 9/12.
9/11 was the hardest day as a citizen I had had up until that point. But the next day, 9/12 and perhaps as long as a month after that, were the proudest days to be an American citizen because, for a short while, none of us cared about doing well. We all cared about doing good.
Tania and I flew to New York as soon as planes were flying again. And I remember flying in over the city at night. It was completely dark. Only the body recovery effort was lit, only Ground Zero itself. There were about five passengers on the plane, all of them were going to Ground Zero. And we all fell silent as we approached.
The next morning, I stood in the still-smoldering rubble. It took me a decade before I stopped smelling that smell. If I smelled it again, I would tell you what it was. But up until just a few years ago, thank God, it went away. I could still smell it.
I'll never forget the first time I saw military Humvees and automatic weapons in the streets of New York. The island of Manhattan with a chain-linked fence. And where there wasn't a chain-linked fence, there was a fence of men in blue that you couldn't get past.
I didn't know what to say to America in those days. I remember praying the week of 9/11, just days before I went national, and I said, Lord, you have the wrong guy. I didn't take my life seriously. I didn't take the country seriously. I'm a jokester. I'm a joke. I'm a rodeo clown. You have the wrong guy. I don't know what to say.
I remember grasping for words on 9/11. People listening, saying, What does it mean? And I said, I don't know what it means, but I promise you, I will do my job to figure it out, and I will tell you the truth. We're in this together.
I really thought for a long time that we would be able to go back to our bliss of ignorance, that when I said we could go back to the way we lived before, that we could all go back to our jobs and our family and to go back to that place where we didn't care about anything, we weren't paying attention to anything. We didn't have to. They would take care of that in Washington.
But it was our bliss that got us to 9/11. And it's our collective hardship that got us to 9/12.
What did the terrorists do to us 15 years ago? They didn't take down our economy like they had hoped. They did much, much more, and they used a weapon of mass destruction more powerful than airplanes. They used us. They used our ignorance, our corruption, our political greed, our ignorance, our apathy. They used our two-party system. They used our religious differences, our lifestyle differences to crush our foundation and to crush one another. And it's working.
As we found on 9/11, even steel under enough intense pressure and heat buckles and fails. And our bonds are no different. But we also learned on 9/11, over a field in Pennsylvania, it only takes a couple of people who think they have absolutely no power to change the course.
Yesterday on 9/11, I prayed almost the same prayer, Lord, you have the wrong guy. I don't know what words . . . I have no words to help. And the words that I do speak seem to make more trouble because too often, they're not your words. Let me begin again. Let us all begin again.
It is the anniversary of September 12th. Anyone who is old enough to recognize it, recognizes it as one of the greatest days ever to be an American. Let's reflect on that today.
Featured Image: Screenshot from The Glenn Beck Program, September 12, 2016.