For years now, I've noticed this wonderful thing that happens like magic whenever someone mentions 9-11. The mood in a group or conversation completely changes. It softens. The memory hurts us all. And then, suddenly, people start sharing where they were when it happened and how they found it. Ten years later, people still talk about it. We have a need to share--with friends, with family, even with people we've just met. And we have a need to listen. Even if we didn't know anyone personally who died, it still touched us--and continues to touch us. It's something we all share and something we all have to remember. There is power in remembering.
Please feel free to comment here with your own story.
This is mine.
I was in Operating Sytems class, taught by the head of the Virginia Tech computer science department that morning. After class, I walked over to McBride to meet with my adviser. I ran into him in the elevator on the way up to the CS floor. Someone said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Someone said it was a small plane and possibly the person in the plane had died. It sounded like some accident involving faulty navigation or a noncommercial plane. When my adviser and I got to his office, we tried to pull up CNN and then all the other news sources, but everything timed out with too much traffic overloading their servers. My adviser and I had a super quick meeting, thinking nothing more of it. Afterward, there was something to sign--a form or timesheet for my graduate research hours or something like that. So we headed to the main CS office. And that's when we realized something was very wrong.
One of the office interns was in tears. Everyone was listening to the radio or scrolling through news stories. The plane had not been a little one.
I headed home, but I needed to get gas to get 1 mile up the hill to my apartment. I stopped at the gas station at the bottom of the hill, just off campus, and tried my credit card. The reader was down. That was odd. I tried again with a different card. Still nothing. Luckily, I had $3 in cash, which was enough for gas to get home and back.
I got to my apartment and turned on ABC just as the second tower fell.
Fom then on, I was glued to the television set. Peter Jennings was like my lifeline. I called my mother up in Northern Virginia. She said my dad (a government employee) was fine. I can't remember now if he'd been sent home and was on the beltway somewhere or if there was a lockdown for a little while. But I remember being worried about him until she called me and told me he was home safe. That was after the towers fell. And after the plane hit the Pentagon. And after the plane went down in Pennsylvania. Every single second of the day, I watched the news. I'd turn the volume up so I could hear it from the bathroom even. I just sat there watching and crying and hoping.
I remember that night, when my boyfriend and I finally ventured outside. The streets were empty. We drove over to our favorite Japanese takeout place for dinner. We ordered and then sat there watching the TV that was on. Other people were sitting at the little tables, silently eating and watching the news coverage as well. I had this sense that, though the news was just showing the same thing over and over, there was something about watching it that was reassuring. It was quiet and strange. Maybe it was just that no one had words for it yet. No one knew how to talk. So we all just watched and waited for it to make sense.
I remember sleeping in front of the television. I remember waking up repeatedly to updated death & missing totals.
I remember going to Creative Writing class the next afternoon. We didn't talk about the current assignment. We didn't talk about the class at all, actually. The professor (a graduate assistant, I think, or maybe he was just a really young teacher) waited for us all to sit down and then he said that the lesson was canceled but we could just sit and write or sit and talk about it with each other. And so people shared. We talked about where we'd been and what we knew so far. We talked about how we all watched the news or listened to the news. We were a small class of people who didn't know each other because it was mostly non-majors taking this for a core requirement, but we all had this shared experience. We reacted to it differently but also in the same way. It was cathartic to be away from the television and talking about it. It was nice having a chance to share our emotions and thoughts with other people who understood.
I can't remember how long it took me to stop watching the news coverage 24-7. I can't remember turning off the television or switching the channel. I just remember life stopping and the whole world holding its breath in shock, then crying. The images of all those flyers of people missing. The president saying stupid things about going shopping. The seriousness even the Daily Show had. Everything was suddenly categorized as Before or After. I wasn't alive when JFK was killed, but soon 9-11 became an actual term everyone used, and then it became the defining event.
I visited Ground Zero for the first time a few weeks ago. I ended up following a group of a few hundred (a few thousand?) motorcycle riders there for a remembrance ceremony. I was amazed at how far along the construction of new buildings is. But I appreciate the displays and museum (which wasn't open yet). And I appreciated having a chance to just be there to quietly reflect. On the drive back home that same day, we passed the Pentagon. And it's rebuilt and functioning. For all the horror and loss and suffering--the lives lost on board the plans, in the towers, in the aftermath; the families destroyed; the first responders now developing illnesses; the soldiers and casualties in the Middle East--we're still here. We all still remember.