I wasn't going to write a 9/11 post. There have been so many already, and I feel that most are much more personal and poignant than I could hope to be. I wasn't even sure if I was going to watch the coverage today, but here I am, glued to the TV. I can't believe it's been ten years. Watching it all over, it takes you right back to where you were, a terrifying timewarp. My hands are shaking and I feel like I could cry at any moment, just like 10 years ago.
I don't have a "story," really. I was sleeping in on Tuesday morning September 11, 2001 in a salmon pink dorm room in a Midwestern college town a thousand miles away from New York City. I was skipping class, actually, having been up late the night before breaking up with my then-boyfriend. As my 8:00AM central time alarm went off and I pulled my self-involved 18-year old self out of my top bunk, my roommate Casey came back into the room. She was on her cell phone with her mother, whose hysterical tone could be heard across the room. We turned on our small TV just in time to see the second plane hit the Trade Center.
A thousand miles away from Ground Zero, two teenage girls held hands and cried as we watched the story unfold, watched the realization spread that this was not an accident, and sat helplessly as it got so much worse.
A thousand miles away, I called my parents and my sister. My mother, a state worker in Illinois' capital at the time, was being evacuated, following protocol for all government offices across the country. A few friends from other rooms in the dorm began to gather in our room. We spent the next several hours in near silence, huddled together, watching buildings and life as we knew it collapse. As freshman in college, we were old enough to know what was happening and that nothing would be the same for us again. Some people have called the attacks the end of innocence in America, and thinking back to how it felt that day, I would agree.
A thousand miles away, Missouri's campus was quiet. People walked to class in a daze. Professors either canceled class, wheeled out televisions to watch the news, or didn't show up at all. I didn't leave my dorm until the late afternoon to go to Poli Sci, only to be turned away when my professor told us to go home.
I understand why New Yorkers feel 9/11 more than others. I don't think any one person or city can take ownership of a tragedy like this, but at the same time, I understand it. A thousand miles away, a mass of young people watched the disaster unfold in disbelief and terror. It brings tears to my eyes to this day. It's still nearly impossible to reconcile the images from that morning with the reality of the devastation and loss. I cannot imagine what it was like to be just a few blocks away, to be in the heart of Ground Zero ... to be in one of the buildings. I just can't wrap my head around it.
What I can say is this, no matter where we were on that morning, the events of September 11 brought us together. A thousand miles away, there was an overwhelming sense of unity for myself and my fellow students on campus, albeit one tinged with fear. Everyone felt it, everyone looked around and noted where they were and what they were doing, because even then we knew that we would be talking about this for a long, long time. The impact has obviously been far-reaching and deeply significant to our history, our politics, our culture. It's not the same for us as it was for the people of New York and Washington, but I don't think I will ever forget the feel of thousands of students taking a collective breath and joining together. By the end of the day, there were American flags hanging out of dorm windows, pinned onto backpacks, flying in front of Greek houses. A make-shift memorial of flowers, candles, letters, and flags collected in front of Mizzou's Columns on the quad. The fear and anxiety I felt that day was not the same as those closer to the events, but I will never forget it. Nor will I ever forget the sense of unity that emerged almost immediately after. A thousand miles away, this marked all of us, brought us together, and more than anything else, provided a sense of hope. Ten years later, I still feel it. It is absolutely overwhelming.
The first few days after September 11, 2001 felt like the world had stopped turning. But that's the point of terrorism, isn't it? To bring us to our knees, both physically and psychologically. A thousand miles away from Ground Zero, things ground to a halt, and ever so slowly picked back up again. There were tests, football games, parties ... life resumed in what would become the new normal. We did the same things that college kids did before, but now with eyes wide open. Maybe there was more fear, more discussion, more compassion, more more flags. I know I found myself taking more time to appreciate what I had, that my life was on the surface unscathed, that my loved ones, my immediate world, my people were intact. I can't say that I had ever felt patriotic before 9/11, but I learned so much about the American spirit in the days following the attacks at the Trade Center, and I was so proud to be an American citizen in the following days. We are resolute, we are brave, and we are strong. We pause to remember, we come together in times of fear, we find hope in dark days.
It's been ten long years, but looking back, it feels like just moments. I can't even imagine what it feels like to those who lost loved ones, colleagues, family, and friends that morning. Many people have said so today, but it bears repeating that today is a time to remember every single one of the nearly three thousand lives lost, as well as how they all touched the rest of us ... even a thousand miles away.