9/11/01: Where were you?

Last year, I posted a blog entry detailing where I was, and what I was doing, during the Sept. 11 terror attacks.  I thought it was a potent reminder of the events of that day, and reflecting on it keeps the memories fresh in my mind.  I’d like to repost what I did last year.  Please email your stories at andrew.davis@lp.org, and I’ll post them on here.  Thanks. 

For my generation the Sept. 11 terror attacks were the J.F.K. assassination of the baby boomer generation.  I always heard people say they remembered exactly what they were doing when news came in from Dallas that the President had been assassinated, and they remembered it as if it were yesterday.  The same can be said for all of us who hadn’t grown up with a national tragedy.  Not to gloss over the tragedy of the OKC bombing, or the Challenger exploding, but nothing I had experienced in my lifetime had the significance of what happened on Sept. 11.

I always like hearing about other people’s stories of what they were doing on that day when the United States came to a silent hush.  It’s not that I enjoy them, or take pleasure out of it.  It’s just that hearing other people’s experiences make 9/11 more real and keeps the tragedy of that day close to my heart.  Much like how stories of the past are kept alive through the word of mouth, 9/11 will always be fresh in the American consciousness as long as people never forget the emotions of that day.  And in the times when America seems ripped apart in political strife, it is good to remember how we all came together on that morning.

I don’t remember much about that morning.  I don’t remember the temperature outside.  I don’t remember whether or not it was cloudy. But, it must have been close to 9:00 a.m. when someone knocked on the door of the English class I was in and said that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, and the building was on fire.  We immediately turned on the TV to watch what was happening.  The first image we saw was a wide shot of the Twin Towers, with the north tower smoking.

My first thought was: ‘How could this happen? Did a pilot just get blinded by the sun and not see the building?’  My class and I discussed in hushed tones what might be the cause of the plane hitting the building.  I believe the news floated around the ideas of terrorism, but few of us in the room, being so young, really remembered the first WTC attack in the 90s, or really knew whom Osama bin Laden was. 

It wasn’t until 9:03 a.m. when the second plane appeared on the TV screen on a direct course towards the towers.  I thought: ‘What is he doing?! Does he not see the buildings?!’  Then there was fire on the screen, gasps from my peers, and finally dead silence across the room.   We talked a little about what was going on, though I don’t remember much of what was said.  My mind was in a different place: a place where events like this took a heavy load of concentration to rationalize and accept.  A place I’d never get to return to again. 

At 9:30 a.m., Bush went on television to confirm the suspicions we all had in our minds.  America was under attack. 

We ended up turning off the TV and went back to work, or at least what we could do with our minds heavy from what we had just seen.  Soon after, we abandoned work and turned back on the TV.  Reports started floating in at 9:45 a.m. or so that the National Mall was on fire.  Nobody really knew the cause at the time, or whether or not it was related to the attack in NYC.  Later it would turn out that it was not the National Mall, but the Pentagon that had been struck by a plane. 

At 10:00 a.m., after shock had fully set in, we shuffled down to the commons area for break, where my friends and I all discussed what we had heard and what we thought.  I didn’t have much to say.  My head was spinning, and I didn’t feel much like talking.  I didn’t feel like much of anything.  I just felt numb.  Numb and heavy.   Later I would find out that as I walked down the stairwell for break, the south tower of the World Trade Center was collapsing.  Other people walking down other stairwells in another building wouldn’t make it to the bottom floor.

At 10:15 a.m., I walked through the door of my next class.  As I was walking to the room, I had heard another student jokingly say: "The south tower of the WTC collapses, in other news, Dunkin’ Doughnuts stock goes down…." I immediately wanted to choke him, and ask him how he could act in such a way despite what was going on.  But quickly that sentiment waned as a new one took over: ‘What did he mean the building collapsed?’ 

When I walked into class, the television was already on, and a few students were clustered by it.  I looked at the screen, and only saw one tower standing.  I thought: ‘Where is the other one?! Can I just not see it from the angle? It has to be there.’  It wasn’t.  A few seconds later, the anchor restated the South Tower had fallen, then cut to a picture of it crumbling away.

We continued to watch for a while, and we all saw a live feed of the second tower falling.  You can’t really explain a sight like that, even watching it from the comfort of a living room by way of the television.  But what did it matter? Words were sort of in short supply that morning. 

We turned off the TV only a little later, and got back to work.  I didn’t see a TV for the rest of the day.  When I got home, I turned on the news and watched for a few hours, then went to bed. 

On Sept. 12, I would wake up in a new world.

Later I would reflect on how naive I was, because from then on out I would never look at the world in the same way as I once did. You see, that day, my generation lost our innocence, and was stripped of the naivete we enjoyed as children who had grown up without a national tragedy of this magnitude.  It changed how we looked at the world.  We saw that every action has a consequence, and that not even an ocean could protect us from the evil of men.

Even writing this now takes me back to the way I felt when I watched America stand still, and I think this is a good thing.  We must never forget the sacrifices of those who walked into danger to save the lives of others.  And we must never forget the lives of those innocent Americans who perished.  Their lives are a testament to the liberty we enjoy, and how badly our enemies would like to see it destroyed. 

The emotions of that day remind us that we are not alone in this world, and that liberty comes at a cost.  Given this, we must never sacrifice this liberty for any person, or any ideal.  We live in a society where freedom and security coexist, and are not mutually exclusive principles.  The day we sacrifice one for the other is the day all of the 2,974 lives taken on Sept. 11 will be without consequence. 

If Sept. 11, 2001 taught us anything, let it be that liberty is at the foundation of this country, and that while terror attacks may knock down buildings and break our hearts, it will never destroy the bedrock principles of the United States.

I’d like to leave you with this cartoon I ran across today.  I’m not sure why it hit me like it did, maybe because the emotions it evokes are the ones that I felt as I watched the second tower collapse, or maybe it just shows how the world can change in a matter of minutes.  But I like it:


From Readers:

I was at work when Buddy P. walked up and told us a plane flew into the world trade cent
er. We turned on the tv just in time to see the second plane hit the other tower. I stood there in shock until I received a call from GE that they needed their refrigerated trailer repaired to be used as a portable morgue in New York. I went back to work and did my job. We will keep doing our jobs and living our lives. That is why we cannot be beaten.