Friday, September 09, 2011

Where I was, 10 years ago

On my way to work this morning, the radio was playing a montage of audio clips from Sept. 11, 2001 and man...that never fails to bring a catch to my throat, even 10 years later. I did not know anyone who perished that day, but I don't think anyone who remembers the day can help but feel emotional about it, regardless of how much time has passed.

One thing I remember thinking in the months after it happened was that I wished I could go back to a time when the biggest worry in our country was something mundane, like balancing the budget. Funny to think about that now, after we've had such an uproar over that very thing the past couple of months. I'd still take that any day, to worry about the economy instead of worrying if our country was going to be attacked at any moment.

On Sunday, I'm singing in a big 9/11 memorial concert in my hometown. We're doing Mozart's Requiem, and I've been feeling kind of negative about it - like, wouldn't it have been better to sing something more uplifting, more patriotic, rather than a mass for the dead?

But I've been thinking about it this week. What I learned through my own experience with loss is that one of the most important parts of grief is to actually acknowledge someone died and is no longer with us. It's not healthy to gloss over that part as "depressing." So I think a beautiful Mass is actually very appropriate.

Now whether we'll sound angelic singing this very difficult piece of music is another topic completely...

Most years on or near the anniversary of 9/11 I repost my "Where I Was" story. I was 18 years old, a month into my first semester as a freshman at Auburn University. It's the kind of story everyone has, but I'm always interested in reading other peoples' accounts of that day, so here's mine, originally posted in 2007 and tweaked a bit over the years.

Where I Was
I still get a catch in my throat reading or hearing about that day. I don't live anywhere near NYC, or the Pentagon, or that field in Pennsylvania. I don't know anybody who died, or even anybody related to anybody who died. But I almost got a little teary-eyed listening to a one-minute radio tribute yesterday.

I woke up just after 9 a.m. CST on 9/11/2001. I was 18 and it was my first semester in college. I never turned on the TV that morning because I didn't want to wake my roommate, who didn't have class until later. As I flew out the door of our dorm, I saw a couple of people standing, watching the little TV in the lounge area by the front door of the dorm, but that wasn't unusual. I remember thinking it looked like there had been a plane crash or something on TV, which of course would have been sad in itself, but not momentous enough for me to miss my 9:30 Writing Seminar with Dr. Solomon, my best and most difficult professor.

I got to class but Dr. Solomon wasn't there yet. Everyone was talking quietly, excitedly, even. A few people, myself included, kept asking "what's going on?" and the two or three people who had seen the news were telling us something about a plane, and the World Trade Center.

Dr. Solomon walked in, looked at us, and said quietly, "You'd better go home. You need to be there to watch history in the making."

He didn't mean it in a callous way--he was dead serious and we all jumped up and ran out of class.

I got back to my dorm and called my parents. Mom told me that Dad, who works for the government and often travels to the Pentagon, was supposed to get on a plane around 10 a.m. for D.C. Fortunately, of course, all flights were grounded before then, but I had to call him anyway just to hear him reassure me he was fine. I woke up my roommate, turned on the TV.

That whole rest of the day was one long blur as a group of us gathered around the TV in my RA's room, watching the news all day long. It's weird now to remember how the horror of it all still hadn't sunk into our collective consciousness. I had to tear myself away from the TV to go to biology that afternoon because class wasn't canceled, and the professor taught almost the whole hour. I'm embarassed now that my sorority even held the pledge swap we'd scheduled for that evening, though the reasoning at the time was that cancelling events that brought us together meant the terrorists had won.

That whole day, as we sat glued to the TV, we kept saying how much the footage of the streets of NYC looked like the movie Independence Day. I remember thinking we'd seen so many disaster movies like that, it didn't seem real to watch it on the news--like CNN had somehow come across a really good piece of CGI animation. 

It was so very hard to wrap my mind around the fact that those little dots falling from the towers were actual people, individual lives. It was unutterably horrific and sad.

I guess the true shock and realization came later. The next day it seemed more real. I stood in a long line to give blood, and went to a campus-wide candlelight vigil that night. I've still got my little piece of candle, and the red band they used to wrap my arm after I gave blood. Those are my small pieces of history.

I mark that autumn as the end of childhood for me. Maybe it would have been anyway, since I was a new college student, on my own for the first time and all. But it was also the beginning of uncertain times. I'm not sure anymore of America's place in the world, or even of our safety. That's not to say I live in constant fear. Most days I don't even think about it. But it is there, in the back of my mind. Some days it's more present than others.


I'd love to hear: where were you?


Cerrissa said...

Such a good post! I was right there with you, just across the quad. And yes, that semester marked the end of an era. Sometimes when I talk to people about where they were on 9/11 and they say they were in high school, I think that they didn't really understand that feeling of vulnerability to the fullest. Not like a bunch of college kids, on their own for the first time, trying to believe that everything was going to be alright. But what do I know...I wasn't in their shoes.

Is it silly that I'm scared to go into Manhattan on Sunday (9/11)? Probably, but I think I will just stick to Brooklyn for the day...

Anna Claire said...

Rissy, it's not silly and you be careful this weekend! I'm so so so glad you weren't in NYC yet back then.

I know what you mean about college/high school. I remember Dad sitting down with me shortly after it happened, telling me if there were more attacks and I couldn't get home (with Redstone being in Huntsville and all), to head for my aunt's house in seems weird now to think that we had an actual emergency plan, but it made so much sense at the time.

Kim @ This Belle Rocks said...

You captured my thoughts almost perfectly. I don't live in fear, or think about it that much anymore (as I also fortunately didn't know anyone who died, or was even around those places), but it is, and always will be, in the back of my mind.