It was exactly 15 years ago today just before 8am CDT. Dan Terhaar and the late Mark O’Connell were wrapping up the AM 1500 KSTP morning show when video popped up on the studio TV showing something crashing into the World Trade Center. I didn’t know it then but in that moment my career and life were about to change forever.
Radio the years before 9/11 was carefree. The economy was great. In Minnesota, things were cruising along so well it could afford to make Jesse Ventura governor. Money was flowing freely at work, and my station was soaring, having mastered a unique way of building comic and quirky shows using the news of the day as material. But on 9/11/2001, life got VERY serious VERY fast, and many of the station’s hosts had no idea how to go forward. One called me wanting to cancel his show as he had no idea what to talk about. Another went on air and immediately used the 50,000 watts to scream “Nuke all the Middle East bastards RIGHT NOW”. The enormity of the situation brought fear, and fear can manifest itself in very negative behaviors. A few individuals with news background, like O’Connell and the late Ron Rosenbaum, grabbed on and steered the boat straight, but it was abundantly clear the carefree days were OVER.
For me, the already high stress level went ballistic It exposed mental illnesses inside me which I didn’t know I had, and which I’d been coping with for decades in very unhealthy ways. Eventually I quit the job, but one set of stressors were quickly replaced with others. The mental illness and I spiraled downward. I eventually found an imperfect but sustainable pace, but it took chemical dependency treatment, a couple of exceptional doctors and health professionals to discover my mental health issues and get me constructive medical treatment. I also had a spouse who stuck with me when it would have been easier to bail on me and start over.
We’ve all been living with terrorism, war and tragedy (both individual and shared) for 15 years now. That’s 11 more years than the American Civil War, 11 more than WWII, and even longer than Viet Nam. With that much physical and mental stress and damage should we be surprised at all when the world or people in it goes crazy?
Whenever I meet someone or pass a stranger on the street I always try to say hello, show a smile and treat them kindly. The battle scars on the outside can be seen, but you never know the scars and wreckage they carry around on the inside.
(Note: I didn’t lose anyone in the 9/11 tragedy. I didn’t lose a family member or have one damaged physically or mentally in military action, although a family close to me lost a son. My damage is manageable. Their loss and sacrifice are permanent.)