We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001. How we heard the news, who we were with. I woke up today with Alan Jackson’s song running through my mind. And I decided to share where I was “when the world stopped turning.”
I was 20 years old, a student at the junior college where I am now an instructor. On that Tuesday, I had a long day of classes. I was on campus for my first early class, driving around for a parking spot, when my best friend at the time called me on my cell phone. She told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I pretty much blew her off and told her I was sure there was nothing to worry about. To be blunt, she was rather ditzy, and I just didn’t think she had her facts right. I continued on to my first class of the day, Biology, and then discovered my best friend was spot on. The world around us was starting to crumble. To the best I can remember, however, we continued through that early morning lecture as normal. After lecture, I had to attend my Biology lab, with a different instructor. By this time, the World Trade Center had been hit as well. Now televisions had been brought into the school cafeteria for students to watch the news. Because of everything going on, some students were understandably late to our Biology lab. Given everything that was happening, honestly, the lab didn’t seem like a very important place to be. But there we were. Dedicated to our schooling, and not really knowing what else to do. However, our shitty, inhuman professor scolded the tardy students and even docked their participation points. I was absolutely aghast. He yelled at them. He said it didn’t matter what else was going on in the world, what was on the news, or if the world was crumbling – our responsibility was to be in that room. ON TIME.
Every bone in my body wanted to walk out of the room on general principle. Looking at the man of in the front of the room talking down to students who were legitimately concerned about the state of our nation and the lives of their fellow citizens, friends, and family members on those planes and in those locations…. I wanted to yell at him. Scream. Throw things. Storm out and never return.
But it was hard to get into science classes, and I needed to keep this class and earn the points for the day. So I remained, silent. And did my work. Most of us did. No one yelled back at him or stormed out. (I don’t think I’d have the same response today).
As the day went on, I kept thinking campus would be shut down and classes would be canceled. Initially, the news addressed concerns about any places like malls and schools with larger populations being vulnerable. But it was ultimately decided that we weren’t under any threat, so classes continued. Even though we were “safe,” I didn’t think any of us needed to be there…
I went through the day kind of like a zombie. I was present physically, but I was confused and worried about everything that was happening, as I assume many people were. And at the young age of 20, I was also considerably overwhelmed. No event like this had occurred on US soil in our lifetime. It was a lot to process.
In the afternoon, I had a history class to attend. Our instructor gave a brief lecture indicating that we were witnessing history. And then we watched the news (or maybe listened to it on the radio?) for the entire class session. One student left class when she received word that her brother was a scheduled passenger on one of the planes that crashed … I am happy to report that she was back a couple class sessions later to share this story with us: Her brother had exchanged tickets with someone so that he was on a later flight and that person could take his seat in the early flight. Her family hadn’t heard from him for a couple days because he had been volunteering his help to others in this time of crisis. Of course, this peer of mine and her family were elated. Although, I couldn’t help but think of the person he had exchanged tickets with… a thankful stranger happy he (or she?) had found someone to swap tickets with to get home earlier than scheduled… and then that person never made it home… So many lives were impacted that day…
Finally, after diligently attending all my classes, I went home in the late afternoon. I still lived with my parents at the time. My dad was out of town, but my mom was home. I couldn’t wait to get home. It just felt safer than campus. Not that I felt I was under any actually physical threat, but I just wanted that comfort of home. I was so eager to go in and see my mom that I pulled into my parking spot in the garage to quickly and actually hit one of my dad’s saw tables with the front of my car.
In the evening, I went out again to attend class at the martial arts studio I trained at. I looked forward to seeing my friends, being with the people I loved so dearly. (The martial arts studio was as much my home as my home with my parents). There was a heavy, somber feeling in the air. Things weren’t as lively as usual. There was no chatter and upbeat discussions about the day like you would normally find. Just a heavy, weighted silence. Shortly before class began, a young man I was deeply infatuated with came into class. I’d known him for a few years, and we were pals, but he had no idea (I hoped) that I had a mad crush on him. He was typically high energy, sarcastic, and playful. But not this day. When he saw me, he came over and gave me a hug. After he embraced me, he gave me a short kiss on my neck. It was such a tender moment. One I’m not even sure I’ve ever told anyone about. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t dreamy. It was just an honest moment between friends, where his actions simply said he was glad to see me, honestly appreciative of his friends simply being alive. I felt the same. And we didn’t even exchange any words.
Our instructor took a moment before class for us all to gather, give a moment of silence, and be thankful for being together at the end of this long, frightening day. And then we all participated in our class with a deep intensity.
There’s a comment from one of my other friends I remember… he was very much a wrong-side-of-the-tracks guy, one my parents greatly disapproved of me having even a platonic friendship with… my point in that is to say that he was actually probably a pretty scary guy, and definitely not one to be scared by many things or even particularly concerned with the general state of affairs of the nation… but even he was shaken. He told me that when he watched the news on tv that day, he saw the devil in the flames and the smoke.
And that’s what I remember… like it was just a day ago. Hard to believe 12 years have passed.
I honor the men and women who fought for us that day. Those in uniform and the good citizens of our great country that stepped up and helped. Those who died. May we never forget, and may we never see such tragedy again.
I send my love out to all of you on this anniversary of the attacks. I feel like “anniversary” isn’t even the right word… because that’s a term that tends to suggest celebration. May we remember. United we stand.
Where were you on the day that “the world stopped turning”?