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?