Today, we all stop to remember what we were doing on September 11, 2001. Where were we when we heard the news that the Twin Towers were under attack by American commercial planes? That the pentagon had been attacked? That one of the hijacked flights had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania when the crew and passengers refused to allow the hijacker to carry out his mission?
A few generations ago, the question “Where were you when JFK was killed?” created a bond among Americans that were old enough to remember this national tragedy. And now, the question, “Where were you on September 11?” has become a point of discussion, both making us contemplative and sad, but also giving us a sense of unity.
Are we better off than we were that day? Are we safer? Was the retaliation justified?
We may never agree on our answers to these questions. But for one moment, while we discuss our whereabouts on the most frightening day of my generation, we are united by a common feeling and a common event. Call it national pride, shock, or what have you, but it’s something we as Americans all share.
On September 11, 10 years ago today, I was 18 years old and had been away at college, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for about three weeks. On a whim, I decided to return to my dorm room between an early morning class and a late morning class. My suite-mate called me into her room as soon as I opened the door to our adjoining hallway. I walked into her room and she pointed at the television. It was almost 10 am at this point and I stared in disbelief as the news showed images of the collapse of the second tower and replays of the two planes hitting the Twin Towers. I sat in the floor of my suite-mates room for at least 30 minutes in shock.
At some point, I decided to see if my roommate was in our dorm and finding her still in bed, I woke her up to tell her what had happened. Not fully understanding the position of the anarchist that I shared a room with, I was in shock a second time that morning when she cheered at the news. And for the first time, I stood up against her ramblings against capitalism and everything it stands for because she was cheering for, not merely an ideology different from my own, but an event that cost people their lives.
Being on a college campus on that day affected me much differently than had it happened just a few months earlier, while I still lived with my parents. For one, the diversity of UNC put students in contact with people who had direct ties with employees at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Everyone was in complete disbelief and there was some unspoken rule that no one would expect us to go to class. But most of us showed up at my late morning Anthropology class seeing some sense of normalcy and maybe even to be comforted by an authority figure. I’ll never forget hearing students frantically calling people on their cell phones to check on the whereabouts of family members who may or may not have been at one of the sites of attack.
Everyone felt different emotions and reacted to the events of the day differently. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to actually be or know someone present at one of the attacks. However, I clearly remember taking all of the events of the day in and being very afraid. Just three weeks earlier, I had been living with my parents under their care and protection. Now I was an adult in a world that seemed to be falling down around us. I had never dealt with such apprehension for the future.
Today, it’s interesting to look back on how that event shaped and continues to shape my generation. The aftermath of the attacks on September 11 has made up over a third of my life. While the changes that have occurred as a result may be shocking to older Americans, it’s the only world I’ve known as an adult. There’s no doubt that this single day has shaped who I am as a person and especially how I see the world.
But today isn’t just about the monumental affect September 11 had on all of us, it’s also a day to remember those who gave their time and their lives and continue to do so to make sure we never experience another a similar tragedy.
Thank you to the men and women, both in the States and abroad, who continue to serve everyday to make our future a less scary place, to give us safety and security from those who threaten our freedom. Thank you. The sacrifices you and your families make on a daily basis are truly appreciated.
Where were you 10 years ago today?