The newsroom’s tiny television sat an arm’s length away from my desk in the bureau office of Durham’s (N.C.) daily newspaper. The TV was rarely on during the week, unless there was breaking news worth monitoring. Noise was common elsewhere in the office, which had been converted from a fast food restaurant. As a part time reporter months removed from college, I had become accustomed to working with loud sounds- particularly from the police scanner that stayed on 24/7 – all around me. But the TV remained silent.
That changed on Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked America. As arguably the biggest news story of my career unfolded, as the world as we had known it was coming to an end, the television sprung to life. Reporters crowded around my desk to watch news updates from the TV, which was suddenly and steadfastly on. The editor cranked up the volume so she could hear it through her glass office dubbed the “fish bowl.” The TV was a constant on this day of covering tragedy. I’ll never forget that television nor what I wrote on that date.
As I tried to make sense of the first foreign attack on American soil in my lifetime, to sort through our coverage for the next day’s special edition, and to contact friends in New York and Washington, D.C. to see if they were safe, I wrote. As the TV so close to me blared reports of some Muslim group called al-Qaeda being behind the attacks and replayed those horrific images of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, I wrote. I’ll never forget the story I told. With images of death and destruction all around me, I wrote of …
Yes, love. The paper had a weekly “Generations” page that primarily catered to senior citizens living in Chapel Hill, N.C., which in addition to being the home of the University of North Carolina is also a popular destination for retirees with several affluent retirement communities to cater to the elderly from all walks of life. Deadlines for the page were pushed up earlier than usual to get the routine pages designed and out of the way so we could focus exclusively on our Sept. 11 coverage.
So, as news continued to filter in about the event that we now simply call “9/11,” I wrote an evergreen feature about an elderly couple who met at Carol Woods Retirement Center, fell in love and planned to wed one another. Both had lost previous spouses. They not only helped each other overcome the loneliness and sorrow at the loss of a longtime spouse, but kindled a romance in the process. The story of a retirement center wedding was certainly a heartwarming one.
And one incredibly difficult to write amid reports of terrorism and American blood spilled.
Now, I would go onto cover many local angles to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – the safety and whereabouts of UNC students in study abroad programs in Washington and New York, memorials held on the UNC campus, peace rallies from area Muslims, stories on area residents with missing relatives, ways local governments responded to the attacks, how communities rallied to send money and care packages to those in need, how area firemen and police officers aided their New York colleagues- but on September 11, 2001, unlike most of my colleagues, I wrote a joyous story.
A decade later, journalists are now telling stirring stories of remembrance– whether it be sorrow or joy, of war or of peace, of loss and maybe even love. In many ways, a story of love is the perfect antithesis to a terrorist act driven by hate.