Published: Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.
The terror reverberated from 3,000 miles away, where buildings fell in black clouds and flames, to the North Coast, where the Golden Gate Bridge was instantly presumed to be a possible target of further attacks.
Over 10 years, the shock has worn away. But the impacts of Sept. 11, 2001, ripple on, creasing everyone's life, across all generations.
Today, the touchstones of 9/11 are many.
Changes in life plans. New college classes to explain that which seemed unimaginable. Removing shoes at airports. Tougher times crossing the border. News reports from the Afghanistan and Iraq battle fronts, day after day, year upon year.
But perhaps the most widely felt is travel.
Loss of innocence
In the immediate aftermath, said Lisa Mott, 42, “I had a 1-year-old, so definitely I felt like he's going to grow up in a different world than I did. I felt sad that we were in this new place, a sense of fear.”
But over time, said the Santa Rosa Junior College English instructor, “I sort of went back to everyday life, with the awareness that we did lose some sense of innocence, if you want to call it that.”
Nowadays, Mott said, it is when she travels that 9/11 is revived for her — by the security precautions that took effect and have remained in place since the first flights allowed after the attacks.
“When you go to an airport and have to take your shoes off, that's when I'm most acutely aware of it,” she said.
Wary of others
Faith Ross, 64, of Petaluma, said she too has found that 9/11's shadow falls over her whenever she travels, though for slightly different reasons.
“You watch people a little more, I do,” said the retired county auditor. “When I travel, I'm watching people around me and I'm looking at what they're doing and how they're acting.”
That, said Ross, grates on her, fills her with resentment at those who struck terror in America.
“It draws you in, versus being the person that you want to be; it makes you angry,” she said.
Change in life's goal
In a 2007 interview, Andrew Sousa, then a Cardinal Newman High School student, spoke of the “constant anger” that he held as a fifth-grader in 2001, directed at the terrorists.
Now 20 and a Sonoma State University junior, Sousa said that anger has faded. But the questions 9/11 fired in him — about policy, politics and America's place in the world — developed over the years and changed his plans, which had been to become an English teacher.
“It's shaped me. Going into college I thought, ‘Maybe I should go into politics,'” Sousa said.
He chose to major in political science and extracting 9/11's lessons is a goal that guides him.
“Those that want to attack us, we should defend ourselves,” he said. “But there has to be some understanding of them, why are there so many people out there who have so much hatred for our country?”
A teaching moment
For Catherine Nelson, one of Sousa's professors, the attacks almost immediately began to shape her days. Terrorism emerged as a dominant discussion in her classes. Soon, she revamped her lesson plan.
“It caused me to change the content of my courses,” said Nelson, 57, a political scientist whose specialty is political philosophy.
Islam, its ideology, the tenets of the religion, became part of her lectures. So too did government memos and news reports about the extent of efforts to combat terrorism: at Guantanamo Bay, in renditions, through waterboarding and warrantless wiretaps on Americans as well as foreigners.
As a teacher, she said, she is more demanding, because there remain pressing questions about what is used to justify acts of both terrorism and national security.
“I tend to push students harder,” Nelson said.
“I'm in the profession of helping people make good decisions,” she said, “and no matter what you decide, if you ignore evidence then you are basing your judgment on what may be an incomplete understanding of what's going on in the world.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey was in Washington, in her Rayburn Building office, when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
“I'll never forget that, as long as I live,” the Petaluma Democrat said this week. “The sound is like an echo.”
The attacks, and the wars they led to, have defined much of the second half of Woolsey's career.
“It added a dimension to my political life,” said the 73-year-old congresswoman who, from the floor of the House of Representatives, has 403 times called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In opposing the wars and the Patriot Act, legislation passed a month after the attacks that broadened the power of law enforcement agencies domestically, Woolsey placed herself in the vanguard of a minority of American politicians.
Being there, she said, has been a principle reward of her 20-year career as a liberal politician.
“I'm proud of having been the leader in that regard,” she said. “I consider that a very important contribution that I have made.”
In a dusty parking lot at Fulton and River roads, distant in innumerable ways from Woolsey's Washington office, Luis Espinoza, a day laborer from Mexico City, testifies to the broad spectrum of change wrought by a single day a decade ago.
“Before 9/11 it was easy to cross,” he said, referring to the illegal passage from Mexico to the United States that he has traveled several times, both before and after the attacks.
Almost immediately following the attacks, official border protections were ratcheted up and private citizens formed patrols along the frontier.
“After it was much more difficult,” said Espinoza, a 29-year-old Santa Rosa resident. “There was more security, there were more private vigilantes.”
As a result, he said, coyotes, as the human smugglers who guide immigrants across the border are known, have hiked their prices from about $1,000 before 9/11 to $4,000 or more today.
New generation learns
Last week, 13-year-old Martha Virgen learned about the terror of 10 years ago in her history class at Geyserville Middle School.
She now knows that the Freedom Tower, under construction in New York City at ground zero, will be 1,776 feet tall to mark the year the Declaration of Independence was signed.
“I'd like to help,” she said. “I don't know in which ways.”
This is what she remembers of 9/11.
“All of a sudden I was just walking into my living room. The television was on. My Mom rushed me into my room and told me I couldn't watch this,” Virgen said.
“I came out to peek, and all of a sudden I saw buildings falling and people running,” she said. “My Mom made me go back. I was in my room all confused.”
She has since seen photographs and video footage. They stick with her. “They were taken by real, ordinary people,” she said.
But for Virgen, something is missing.
“I think about it almost every day,” she said. “Trying to find the answer. Why is it the United States they wanted to attack?
“I can't say it affects my life, but it affects my feelings. When I think about it I get upset, I get sad, and sometimes I even get angry.”
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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