9/11 20 years later: Joe Bialobzeski, Ballston Lake – Canadian connection | Readers remember

A man lights a candle on Sept. 14, 2001 in memoriam of the victims of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks
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A man lights a candle on Sept. 14, 2001 in memoriam of the victims of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks

Has it really been 20 years?

My wife and I were visiting the west coast of Canada on Sept. 11, 2001. To be exact, we were in Vancouver, British Columbia, when all hell broke loose, or so it seemed.

I first heard about the attack while buying coffee in a Starbucks. I wasn’t paying much attention as I overheard a conversation about the attack. I had a fleeting thought that they were talking about a scene from a movie. It never occurred to me that something like this could actually happen in real life. I now know better. As we left that Starbucks on that beautiful morning, little did we know that life as we knew it and our vacation plans were about to change.

Later, while driving to catch a ferry to Victoria on the island of Vancouver, we heard the news on the radio. It was surreal. It was unbelievable. It was incredibly sad.

To say we were stunned would be a tremendous understatement. The feelings of outrage would come later.

Being visitors to the country, it seemed everyone wanted to know where we were from. When we mentioned being from New York, the response was very touching and supportive. I didn’t know what to say. I was trying not to be overcome with grief and bad feelings about the attack. We were so far away. There was nothing we could do.

I just acknowledged their kindness and moved on.

We were walking in the capital city of Victoria when we saw a long line of people in front of the government building. Not seeing the front of the line or where it was headed, I was curious enough to ask what people were lined up for. I was told, “We are sending condolences to the states.” Once again, I was touched by the kindness and thoughtfulness of these people. It reaffirmed my faith in humanity at a time when I needed that.

I did not watch TV during our time away because I didn’t want to see the actual attack. I still have not seen it and I don’t want to. I have seen pictures, heard descriptions and read the headlines, and that is enough. It is just too much. Too much sorrow. Too much violence. Too much hatred. How could these terrorists hate us so much?

When I read headlines from two Canadian newspapers — The Globe and Mail and National Post — I had a feeling that at least the civilized world was on our side.

Following are the headlines from Canada that I was reading from these two papers listed in chronological order: 9/12 — “A Day of Infamy”; 9/13 — “Bush Girds for Battle”; 9/14 — “ ‘We Will Lead the World to Victory’ Bush Vows as Coalition Grows”; 9/15 — “U.S. On War Footing”; 9/17 — “Canada at War”: Manley (John Manley was the Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time); 9/20 — “U.S. Military Launches ‘Infinite Justice’ Mission”; 9/21 — “Bush Tells World to Take Sides.”

We were about to enter what would become a very long and costly war on terror.

That day changed us forever. It changed the way we travel and what we can pack when we do. It changed how we view our world and our safety. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) was created. Long lines at airport security became the norm. I could go on. We were soon told if you “See something, say something.” I have a memory of seeing military men at the airport carrying weapons. That first day was just so unreal, but it got real soon enough.

We still had to get home. Our original return flight was canceled as the airports shut down. We didn’t know if we were going to rent a car, take a train, fly or hitchhike home. We were considering all options except walking.

If we weren’t feeling so bad we may have cared more and been more stressed, but as it was we were kind of numb. We knew that our minor issues paled in comparison to what was going on at home.

On the bright side, everyone we encountered was great to us and so helpful. There was a wonderful feeling of cooperation. Once the airlines began operating again we were booked on a Korean Airlines flight to JFK.

More Remembrances: We remember; The Daily Gazette’s special Sept. 11 anniversary section 

Once we booked our flight, we needed to know the new rules. What could we pack and what needed to stay behind? We asked a concierge to call the airline and check for us. At the airport, a fellow traveler was complaining about his luggage being searched again. Reality was definitely kicking in: Things would never be the same again.

After a long, stressful day we arrived at JFK very late in the evening. We ran for what seemed like miles through the bustling, busy airport and we still missed our connecting flight. We were so disappointed. We were tired. We just wanted to get home. We waited as patiently as we could for the next plane to leave.

Finally, we left New York City on a small plane to Albany. Leaving was a relief.

Everyone seemed as weary as we were. We were shuffled around to make sure the weight was evenly distributed on both sides of the small plane. The flight attendant was just guessing about that of course; I could only hope she got it right.

On the flight home, that same attendant assured us, “We will get you home safe,” and I knew she meant it.

Just as she said that, our small plane, at that very late hour and surrounded by total darkness, bounced and shook severely. I thought the wing might come off. We were experiencing some serious turbulence. I didn’t need to be told to fasten my seat belt. It seemed a little scary there for a bit but, true to her word, they got us home safely.

The outrage settled in soon enough. We were attacked on our own soil; that could not be tolerated. I probably cheered when the bombs started to fall. I sang along with Toby Keith as he warned “ … You’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A … ’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass — it’s the American way.” There was a real feeling of patriotism in the air. An attack such as this on innocent people will do that to you. At the time, it felt good to lash out, but in retrospect I would say those were not my finest moments.

We all said “never forget,” but I think we have forgotten. Oh, we remember the horror, chaos, confusion and outrage that followed this atrocity, this deliberate terrorist attack on the innocent people of our country. We remember the lives lost and altered forever, including the dead, sick and injured who responded to this tragedy so heroically.

But we seem to have forgotten how damaging hate can be. We seem to have forgotten the feeling of unity and willingness to help each other that we felt at that time. It is too bad that it takes a crisis to encourage us to be civil to each other.

Twenty years ago we were united against a common enemy operating outside our borders. Today we are a country divided and our most serious national security threat comes from within our borders in the form of domestic terrorism. The common theme between these two eras, separated by two decades, is that hatred reigns supreme. Will we ever learn?

-Joe Bialobzeski, Ballston Lake

More Remembrances: We remember; The Daily Gazette’s special Sept. 11 anniversary section 

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Categories: 9/11 20 Years Later, Life and Arts

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