Where were you on September 11, 2001?
It is one of those days that is remembered with awe not only by the writers of history but by every American and many people around the world who were around to witness it. We are the generation that will forever answer the question, “Where were you on 9/11?”
- I was in my Sunnyvale apartment at the time and my friend woke me up with a phone call and yelled, “Are you seeing what’s happening in NY?” I was all, “Man, I’m still asleep.” He continued, “Well turn on your TV and see what’s happening.” I turned on the news and saw smoke coming out of the tower and soon another plane slamming into the other tower. Ok, I was awake now. Still on the phone with my friend I said, “Uh oh, we’re at war with someone. I don’t know who with, but we’re going to war with someone.”
- I was only 15, and I remember walking into the classroom for my History class. My teacher had on the news; the first tower had just been hit., but none of the students were paying attention. After a few minutes, though, the news story slowly caught our attention, and then the second tower was hit, and it was declared an attack. We watched attentively for the rest of the hour, and became increasingly aware throughout the day that we had just witnessed a pivotal point in our country’s history. I lived in a small town in Wisconsin, and I remember being surprised by how many people around me had connections in NYC, and thinking how awful it must be for them to get all of their information from the news and be stuck so far from the action.
- I was 10 years old. I woke up early in the morning, just like on any other school day. Except this morning, it wasn’t by my dad’s voice like usual, but instead by the television blaring in the next room. Cranky and confused, I walked into the room and exasperatedly asked my dad why he was watching news when he should be getting ready to take me to school. His eyes never left the screen as he curtly reprimanded me: “Be quiet. The terrorists are attacking.”
New York City
In the aftermath of 9/11, I learned what if felt like to have pride in a community.
I grew up in a tiny rural town, and I always went to really small schools. When it came time for college, I was ready to go someplace bigger; I wanted to go to the biggest school possible. I moved to New York City in late August, 2001.
It was about two weeks into the semester, and I remember watching the news and seeing the plane hit the first tower. No one knew yet what was going on; everyone continued to hope that it was just an accident, and the R.A.s just told us to go to class. On my way across the NYU campus, I could see smoke rising from the first tower.
My professor was clearly on edge, but my class was inside of a sound-proof concert hall with no cell reception. He addressed the news, then went on with class, but he let us out early. The chatter around me was concerned about the safety of the people on the floor that had been hit, the people in the plane.
We left the shelter of ignorance and entered into a city in chaos. People were screaming everywhere. Another tower had been hit, and it had been declared an attack. When the towers fell, we became aware just how devastating the death toll was going to be. It wouldn’t be just a few hundred people, workers on one floor, passengers of one plane. It was going to be thousands. It was going to touch a whole city, the entire country. When I heard the word attack, I realized that my life, too, could be at risk.
We made our way back to the dorms, because we had no other place to go, this fresh crop of people who hardly knew each other yet. All of the adults and the R.A.s were trying to keep everybody calm, but they were all worried, too, and we knew it. The freshman sat up all night, drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade that someone had snuck in and watching CNN play the video and relay the news of the attacks over and over again, until we were going crazy from the lack of answers to the endless questions everybody had. The phone lines were overwhelmed, so it was hard for any of us to even call home to let our parents know we were okay. I connected to my parents through a three-way call to my friend in Florida.
Authorities were telling people to evacuate because of the debris in the air, so by the middle of the night, this massive city that had so overwhelmed me for the first two weeks with its size and its speed and its noise was eerily quiet and calm. Around two a.m., we saw army tanks coming down the street of the abandoned city. Nobody knew why they were there; they just added to our fear and confusion about the situation, and solidified one thing in our minds: this was serious.
Ten years later, I can’t help but still feel like history is not going to draw the right conclusions about these events. The wars and politics that have followed September 11, 2001 are so easily connected to the events of that day, but with little explanation why. After we learned that these were acts of terrorism – not accidents – a lot of mean and hateful emotions started to surface. New Yorkers were devastated by the loss of the Twin Towers, this symbol of our nation’s prosperity, and Americans were developing a blind anger at these unknown terrorists who had attacked our country, and a terrible prejudice against anyone who reminded us of them. I remember being acutely aware of how powerful America was as a country – and afraid of how it might react to this challenge to that authority.
In the aftermath of 9/11, I learned what if felt like to have pride in a community. There was a sudden swell of American patriotism, which I quickly recognized as very different from the feeling of community I was experiencing in New York. New Yorkers were coming together in grief, holding vigils every night, flowers scattered everywhere, a city suddenly coming together through a tragedy. The freshman in my dorm, who hardly knew each other after just two weeks, bonded through a night of uncertainty. As a New Yorker, I felt a sense camaraderie. As an American, I sensed an anger. The American patriotism seemed hateful and hurtful. American flags and anti-Al Queda T-shirts were flowing around New York, but mostly for tourists, for other Americans. In New York, I was proud to be a part of a community that had experienced this tragedy together, come together to share our grief and support those in need. Everyone was showing their support in some way. Through grief, memories, tragedy, loss, fear, uncertainty, and – eventually – healing, we are inextricably connected.