Throughout the day of Sept. 11, 2001, as I watched and listened to the unspeakable horror that played itself out in New York, Washington, D.C., and central Pennsylvania, like most Americans, I experienced many feelings, everything from fear to sorrow to anger.
But more than anything else, I was dumbfounded by the enormity of those evil acts. I could not understand how human beings could carry out such unimaginable violence against innocent people, people they couldn't possibly know.
As a reporter, I was on the street within hours of the first news reports on that day. The editors and reporters I worked with were looking for reaction from people in the Verde Valley and Sedona to something none of us understood ourselves. We truly didn't even know the extent of what was happening.
We had no clue as to why it was happening.
That is the question that I have been asking since 9/11. Why?
Other than the gruesome statistics and the protracted aftermath, is there anything about 9/11 that we can understand? Has it changed us collectively or as individuals?
There is much that we know about 9/11, but I wonder if there really is anything we understand about it. This week I decided to ask some residents of the Verde Valley two questions. The first was: Is there anything about 9/11 that you now think you understand? The second was: After 10 years, has 9/11 changed you?
I told the people I questioned that I would quote their answers, but that I would not identify them. I guess I was expecting people to hold back if their names were to be printed.
What I got was simple and direct answers. No one hesitated before answering either of those questions.
"I understand the reasoning about how they tried to get at us," one man said. "They have different beliefs." That gentleman had relatives working in the World Trade Center towers on the day of the attacks. His family came through the attacks safely. "We were really lucky," he said.
Another, short but to the point answer was, "They think of us as an enemy."
That man said 9/11 has in fact changed him in one way. "It's made me really nervous about traveling," he said.
"I think I took our national security for granted," a woman told me. "I now understand that we all must be more aware of our surroundings."
Several people echoed that sense of caution about travel. "I'm a much different traveler than before 9/11," one woman said. "I need to be much more astute."
That woman travels frequently for professional as well as personal reasons. She said she still travels, but there are now places where she won't go.
One woman told me that 9/11 did change how she looks at the world. "But not how I look at people," she added. "I'm not paranoid, just more cautious."
A man said that 9/11 made him realize that the United States is more vulnerable than he ever thought before. "We always thought that we were protected," he said, "that no one would attack our borders. War is always a long distance away."
"Oh yes," one man answered when asked if 9/11 had changed him in any way. "I will remember that day until the day I die."
Another man said that 9/11 made him realize that terrorism isn't only a threat against the United States as a whole. He now knows it is a threat to every community in the country, including small communities such as those in the Verde Valley.
A woman said that she couldn't believe it has been 10 years. "It is still very real for me," she said. She explained that she can remember not only where she was and what she was doing on Sept. 11, 2001, but she remembers for every Sept. 11 since the attacks.
In a discussion with one woman, I said that I've never been able to understand news reports following 9/11 that showed people in the Middle East celebrating the terrorist attacks against the United States.
She pointed out that most Americans can't understand even some of the most basic issues that many people in the Middle East live with every day. For example, she said that American parents could never accept that their daughters would not be entitled to even a basic education. Never mind that those daughters and their parents are often punished severely just for walking to school.
"We can't understand," she said, "because we can't walk in their shoes."