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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Looking Back

I initially forgot that today was 9/11, but then on my way to work, NPR had a segment on the memorial services being held, and suddenly, I was reminded of the significance of the day.

Every generation has a day like today: My grandparents remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed, my parents remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, and I distinctly remember where I was when the Twin Towers were hit.

I was in a graduate seminar in poetry.  We were studying an Emily Dickinson poem.  Because if you're an English graduate student, that's what you spend your time doing: You sit in a conference room with 8 or 9 other like-minded-literary-nerds and explicate the bejesus out of a work -- "kicking the dead horse" my friend used to say.  For hours.  It's awesome.

Anyway, I remember, we were taking a break, so we all emerged from the room we had been in and there was chaos in the hallways.  SOMEthing was happening, but we had no idea what.  Quickly, we learned that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center, but at that time, no one knew why -- initially, everyone thought it was an accident.  At that point, someone had wheeled a TV out into the hallway where faculty and other grad students were gathering, and they flicked on the TV and there we saw the second plane hit the second tower.

Everyone just gasped.

WTF was happening?  No one seemed able to comprehend what we'd just seen.  It was clear with that footage that that 2nd plane had steered, purposely, into the tower, but the very idea seemed incomprehensible, absurd.

And then, it was break over, and we went back to our studies -- although I can't remember if we held a full class after that or if we left early since everyone was so distracted and confused that focusing on metaphors seemed too much for our brains to comprehend.

Later that evening, I went to work at the restaurant where I was a server.  The restaurant had decided to remain open, but that was clearly pointless; it was dead that night.  I think I had one, maybe two tables, and then we all just packed it in and went home to watch the news repeat the footage of that second plane over,  and over, and over, again.  I went to bed that night feeling shocked and confused.

All of that is what I thought about this morning as I ran my 5 miles on the treadmill.  Around me, were students who were all children when the planes hit those towers, and I wondered if the event carried as much weight in their collective memories since they were so young when it happened (although, for me, I do remember how tragic it was watching the Challenger explode during take off -- we watched that on TV at school, I was in 1st grade; we'd been studying space exploration in preparation of that launch; watching it explode was surreal).

So, here we all are 11 years later.  I teach some of Dickinson's poetry in my literature classes, which seems fitting to me: Towers fall, wars are waged, people are changed, but poetry -- and literature as a whole -- remains steadfast in capturing the diversities and universalities of the human condition.  No matter the day, or the circumstances, it is always worth reading.

Where were you?


Nobel4Lit said...

I was getting a ride to school from my sister, and they announced it on the radio. Well, we listened to this gangsta rap station, so we thought it was a (distasteful) joke. But when I got to school, I saw the classrooms were already open and filled with students glued to the TV. I remember being so distracted for like a month after that due to the graveness of the event and worry that there would be more.

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

I was sitting at my desk unable to leave feeling that if I did, I would somehow make what I was watching on my computer REAL. It was an unbelieveable moment in history to watch. The burden of "just watching" is something that weighs heavily. Praise God for all those there that day who stood up and didn't just watch but acted and for all those everyday who service in any way to help keep us watchers all a bit safer. Military, their families, law enforcement, medical staffs, teachers, care providers...everyone who does for others thanks for doing it!

Jamoosh said...

I was at work. For an aviation company of all things. The next several days were some of the toughest we ever had.

Erin said...

I was working at the Hell Hole Fabric Company in FL; which happened to have a lot of New Yorkers as employees (including the owners). I recall everyone gathering around the tv in the breakroom. Some were very shaken and worried about family members who worked near the Twin Towers. I didn't realize the magnitude at the time of what an "attack" meant to the US.

I also wondered how younger generations remembered the day. I clearly recall the Challenger explosion so I am guessing many remember 9/11.

Elizabeth said...

I was in the 2nd grade, also on a bathroom/water fountain break. At the water fountain, I started a lively conversation with a fellow second grader named David. As we returned to the classroom we continued our noisy conversation, but were immediately silenced by our teacher who was listening intently to the radio. I didn't know what was happening, but I knew it was something bad. Just then, the second plane hit. It's weird because my second grade class had no idea of the true impact, but we all definitely felt it and were emotional just like the adults. Strange thinking back on that day as a freshman in college; still seems like just yesterday.

runaroundmyblog said...

I was in class when we saw the fire from our building. We were dismissed immediately after the second plane hit and the rest of the day, we were with close friends and family. A good friend of ours lost her brother who was engaged to his girlfriend of 10-years. My girlfriend's co-worker lost her husband.

I can even remember the next few weeks after that -- it was a very sad, sad time.

Leah said...

I was at work. We didn't have internet privileges except they had somehow not turned off the instant messaging functionality. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband, Jason) sent me a message saying a plane hit the tower. I wrote back and said, oh was it foggy or something, thinking it was weird that an accident like that could happen. He said something about it being a terrorist attack and I was like, what...no. i went over to my friend's desk as she had full internet, and all the websites were stalled from so much traffic. WE all went upstairs where there was a TV and watched the coverage. The company closed for the day. We were in Chicago and still didn't know what was happening. Jason worked downtown and I told him I didn't care if he got fired to leave because I didn't know what was going on. I walked the 5 miles home instead of taking the train home. We stayed up all night watching the news. I remember going out that Friday night to our local bar and everyone was there, and it was just good to be around friends. I remember going out to dinner with my dad that week and you knew exactly what everyone was talking about. It was a strange feeling.

Anonymous said...

I was with you in the class, and reading this made it all come back to me! What a horrible day. Thanks for posting!


RunningLaur said...

Beautifully written, Jess. [This was the real reason I came to comment, but I'll share my memory too.]

I was in my first Senior Class meeting (high school). At the end of the meeting our Principal said that two planes had hit buildings in New York. We all thought it was strange but didn't think too much more of it. The senior class was the only ones who knew anything at the time. Within an hour or so all of the tvs in the school were pulled into the hallways (we didn't have enough for one in every room) and people were gathered around watching. My last period class was gym. They had us all play kickball outside and the weather was perfect. I spent the entire night in front of the tv, slowly getting calls from friends and family that people were ok, since so many phonelines were jammed. It took until well after dinner to hear from our family in Sommerset where Flight 93 crashed. It's because of 9/11 that I keep a google calendar that family members have access to to know what state/airport I'm in now.

Agate Lake Girl said...

I was in a meeting (I was working for Motorola at the time). Jon texted me about the first plane. Like you said, we all assumed it was some sort of accident. A few minutes later I got the text about the second plane.

A half an hour they gathered all the employees together and told us we needed to pull ourselves together and get to work. Our factory was responsible for making the two-way radios that NYPD and FDNY used so we had to start building replacements quick. It was difficult to say the least.

I was also waiting for news about a friend who worked at the Pentagon (he was okay, thankfully) and it was Jon and my 2nd wedding anniversary. Needless to say, our dinner reservations were canceled that night and we stayed home, glued to the TV with the rest of the nation.

James said...

I had a somewhat similar experience as you. I was in a Medical Entomology class when I heard about the first plane. Class continued on. After class I went to work at a lab and while feeding fire ants, I listened to the radio about the second plane, the Pentagon, and the last plane. It seemed like an all day affair. I kept wondering "what next?". That evening, as all air traffic was grounded, I was conducting an insect collection trip and we stood there watching fighter jets circle the Houston area skies, I just kept thinking, this is surreal.

I distinctly recall the Challenger event too. I was in 3rd grade, and had stayed home sick that day. Alone (who leaves a sick third grader home alone these days?), laying on the floor with a fever I watched the take off. I remember the moment it exploded and just how shocked the news corespondent was. I spent the rest of the day watching the media coverage and feeling touched by the event.

I was too young to really grasp what happened during the Challenger explosion, but it left a big impact on me. Maybe because I watched it live and alone, not sitting in a classroom, but I've always felt a connection with the space program every since.