In the morning of this day eleven years ago, I was in a hotel preparing to attend the second day of a technical conference. It was a rather mundane and typical data users meeting. In retrospect, the topic of this meeting became insignificant in comparison of the terrorist attacks on the United States that morning.
That morning, as I was about to walk out the door of my room, the television news broke to images of a tall building on fire with thick black smoke pouring out of skyscraper interrupted with video of firefighters in the foreground of another building in flames (which would turn out to be the Pentagon). At first, these disastrous images looked like an accidental plane crash, but in the few minutes that followed, and with news about the second plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York, the indications were that something much more ominous had just happened.
Fixated on the television, I would arrive late for the conference that morning, and it didn’t matter. This was before Twitter, Facebook and smartphones, and text messaging was still not heavily adopted. Our only source of information about what had just happened was catching the whispers from those of us in the seats about what we were finding out. Not many of us were paying attention to best practices of the software system we were supposed to be learning how to use.
At the end of that day, I returned to my own high-rise apartment building that overlooked a major airport in the distance, and the downtown skyline in the opposite direction. With flights grounded across the continent as a result of the attack, the skies were eerily empty.
I would talk to my parents later that evening. On the phone, my father warned me to be careful when I was out in public – as we were turban-wearing men, he was concerned about my safety and of me becoming a target. He asked me to stay a safe distance away from the edges of subway platforms on my commute, and to be cognizant of what was around me at all times. I made a conscious choice, however, that I would not allow myself to live in fear.
Soon, we would also receive news of the first post-9/11 backlash murder – the victim was Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh in Phoenix, Arizona, who was shot and killed outside his gas station as he tended to the landscaping.
A few days later, when flights resumed and planes were in the sky again, I would watch in solemn reflection as jets flew past the downtown core and its skyscrapers. It would take me months before I could look out my window at the jets flying across the horizon and not think about the images of 9/11.
I recently had the opportunity to be among the many visiting the 9/11 Memorial. I was taken by the imposing and gleaming presence of One World Trade Center. I stood at the edges of each of the reflecting pools, scanning through the names, and reading too much into the various shapes and images formed by the pouring water. And, while taking note of the New York police presence, the likes of which I have not seen anywhere before, I walked among everyone at the Memorial without a second thought or a second glance.
And, yet, to this day, I still keep in my mind the advice of my father that night eleven years ago.