My story of that day is not much of a story. There are so many stories out there. Stories of families who lost so much, whose lives were so deeply affected. I am humbled by those people, their stories, their strength.
But today is a day to look back and remember. Our stories of where we were that morning and what we did that day unite us. And today is also a day to unite.
I was a junior at American University. I went to my 8am class that morning. By the time that class ended, the first plane had struck the first tower. I met a new friend for coffee and afterwards, we walked together to our next class. And the second plane hit the second tower.
On our way, I noticed a crowd of students gathered around the TV in the student center. But this was AU. Crowds of students gathered around to watch CSPAN sometimes. I kept walking and bought myself another 5 minutes of not knowing.
The building where our class was held was oddly quiet. Our classroom was empty. We lingered just outside the door, waiting for a professor or more students to arrive.
A professor we didn’t recognize approached us, clearly wondering what we were doing there. We asked her if she knew whether our class was cancelled. I remember the transition of emotions that crossed her face during this quick conversation. Concern to confusion to understanding to… well amazement that we had no idea what was happening. She told us to go back home. She told us that classes were cancelled. She told us that the U.S. was under attack. As we talked, the third plane crashed into the Pentagon.
I remember thinking she was crazy. How could the U.S. be under attack? What did that even mean?
Back at my dorm room, my cell phone displayed an abnormally long list of missed calls. Several from my Mom, a few from my boyfriend, a handful from an assortment of aunts and uncles. On my computer were a number of chat sessions blinking and begging for my attention – people who couldn’t get through on the phone but trying desperately to reach out in any way possible.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. I wandered aimlessly around campus with friends. I crowded around the TVs in the student center to watch for more news and hear the President speak. I lay awake in bed listening to not-so-distant sirens, wondering what they were for.
I didn’t see either plane hit. I didn’t see either tower fall. By the time I became aware of what was happening, all of the moments people remember about that day had passed. I don’t know anyone whose life was directly affected.
The whole day felt like a very strange dream.
And, ten years later, it still feels like a strange dream.
I’m still afraid. And sad. And confused.
Someday I’ll have to explain this day to Baby. How will I bring relevance to something that, to her, will be a history lesson? How will I explain to her something that I don’t completely understand? How will I make her understand that the thing to remember about this day is not the evil or the maliciousness? It’s not the fear. It’s not how different life is now than it was before.
It’s that people came together that day. People rushed into danger to help strangers. People showed unbelievable compassion and strength. And they have continued to do so, every day, in the ten years since.
She won’t need to know, at least not right away, that we live in a world where this kind of hatred is possible. But I want her to know that we we live in a world where humans have the capacity to come together, to be there for each other, to save lives, and to make a difference.
Someday I’ll have to explain this to her. And I think then I’ll finally understand it, myself.