I thought for a while about whether or not to do a post in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I worry about making mourning an “event” – with all the specials on TV, it feels as though the anniversary is becoming more of a contest of which news outlet can get the “better,” more heartbreaking take on the story. But I’ve appreciated hearing the stories from my friends who chose to post, so I’m joining in. These stories seem all the more important considering that many of my students were in preschool (or very early elementary school). They need to know what it was like from the people who remember.
So, where was I when it happened? That’s the question everyone asks. That’s my generation’s “where were you when” in the same way that JFK’s assassination is for my parents.
My freshman year in college, I made the ill-conceived decision to take a four-day-a-week 8am Latin 2002 class. Until 9/11/01, I went to that class every day. But that morning, I decided to sit up, turn off my alarm, and go back to sleep. This was my first time skipping class; I was a rebel. So where was I when the first plane struck? I was sleeping.
My roommate, Erica, also had an 8am class (though hers was only Tuesday/Thursday) and burst in the door of the room just before 9:00, begging me to turn on the TV. I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, so it took her a few minutes to get me to wake up and show me what was going on. Erica and I weren’t super close friends or anything, but we watched the second plane hit together, watched the towers fall together.
I recall that at first people were saying that it was a bomb, that something was wrong with the computers in the planes, that planes were just falling out of the sky. I recall finally hearing that it was something else entirely. I recall being scared.
I had an 11:00 Math class, and since class hadn’t been cancelled on campus yet and I’d already skipped my 8:00, I felt obliged to attend. I walked across campus and got to class just in time to help some of my classmates attempt to explain to our professor, who spoke very little English (and mostly Russian), what was going on (and why most of the class hadn’t bothered to show up). Once she got the message that most people weren’t coming, she let us go. The University cancelled classes as of noon.
I walked from the Environmental Sciences building (where my math class was inexplicably held) to Snelling, my favorite dining hall. I sat in that dining hall with a group of high school friends for HOURS that day, watching the news on TV. I spent so much time trying to call everyone I knew in New York, even people who I knew would have no reason to be anywhere near the towers, just because I needed to know they were okay and hear their voices.
Mostly, though, I just remember being scared.
I recall a feeling of patriotism in the days that followed that I’d never seen in people before. I mean, we all loved America before it happened. But somehow this brought us together, made us feel more united than before. And while it may be true what Sage Francis says about some people becoming “makeshift patriots,” I do believe that it was tremendous to see the love people displayed for this country, and for each other, in the weeks after the attacks.
That’s part of why this tenth anniversary makes me so sad. I mean, of course I’m sad for all those lives lost and for all their families who are still grieving for them. My heart absolutely breaks every time I think about my friends who lost their family or friends in the attacks, and I’m so lucky that everyone I knew who was remotely close to the attacks was okay.
But in addition to that, I look at our political climate in 2011 and see so little resemblance to that feeling of unity that I saw/felt in the weeks after the September 11th attacks. I’m not saying there was no division between parties in 2001 and we were all best friends who just agreed on everything, but I didn’t see the vicious partisanship, the “let’s-treat-politics-like-college-football-and-hate-everyone-who-doesn’t-root-for-our-team” that I see now. Maybe it’s because I was 18 then and I just didn’t know any better, but I really want to believe the country was indeed the way I saw it then, united, even if it was because of something horrible.