It’s raining today. A steady, chilling rain that hasn’t ceased since I woke up with my alarm blaring. Usually I’m in a fog of sleep, slightly pissy, and unable to form coherent thought until sometime in the middle of my shower.
Today, though, my first thought was “Oh. It’s that day.”
As I was getting dressed, it felt inappropriate to wear color. The sky is grey, the mood is grey… So I didn’t.
According to the calendar it’s been 8 years since the day that most Americans’ perception of security and safety was shattered early in the morning. Each year that passes, I’m still unable to believe that time is continuing to flow forward.
How fortunate my generation was up until that point- to be aware of some of the more horrific moments in American and world history, but never having had to live through them. Learning about the Civil War, Pearl Harbor and Kennedy’s assassination in the abstract, just as turning points in history that spurred people to grief, change or action. Those were things “in the past”, when the world was somehow less stable. The only conflict that I was ever aware of was the Gulf War, which was downplayed in my elementary school classrooms and which I remember ending unceremoniously. I don’t remember being afraid as a small child, or needing to sit with my parents and ask “what does this mean?”
But I can’t pretend that I’m in that sheltered bubble any longer. It’s like everything before that day in 2001 was a sunny haze, wrapped in a layer of gauze, and suddenly life was thrown into sharp focus. Life became painfully fragile and REAL.
I’ve heard it said that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing the day that JFK was shot. In my little cotton-wrapped world, I couldn’t conceive of an event like that. War and death and fear was something that happened to other people in other times and other countries. Until I was sitting in the first week of my freshman year of college, in Written Theory I with Dr Long, and he entered the room and stated “A plane has flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” He then continued the lesson.
After class we all looked at each other in confusion, trying to decide what to do Do we continue our day, moving on to lunch and practice and futher classes? Or do we run back to the room to see what exactly is going on in New York City? We decided on the latter option, and I remember sitting on the floor of my friend’s dorm room, just in time to see the first tower fall. It was too big to comprehend. I don’t need to say what we saw that day- everyone around the country saw the same thing. And what it meant for each of us was both the same and vastly different.
As futher reports came in, about additional attacks in Washington and Western PA, my parents had to be persuaded not to come and pick me up from college “until things calmed down.” We had no idea if this was just the beginning, and if/where we’d be hit next. Those that had family in the areas hit left camps, or waited frantically for news. The college community banded together for a quiet and reverent memorial, which was hugely attended with everyone looking to find some meaning in senseless violence.
However, “life” went on. Classes continued, and we the privileged youth were allowed to continue our day-to-day without our lives being noticeably disrupted. That is what I remember when I look back- how quickly normalcy resumed.
Meanwhile, other brave young men and women had their lives quickly and completely changed as the armed forces mobilized. Students’ enrollment in the National Guard caused them to be “activated” and assigned to duty at various locations requiring additional security. After that, many of them were sent to Iraq as part of the misdirected war on terror. While I was being babied during my freshman year, Army Boy was forced to stop college courses and sent to Three Mile Island for security detail. And then sent to Iraq. As I was consumed with concerns about boys and parties, his life was in danger on a daily basis. It makes me feel spoiled. And humble. And proud. And so, so thankful that he is home.
Never again will my generation blindly trust that the United States is invulnerable. We are just as open to the effects of hatred as any other nation. That is perhaps what stays with me the most- that lost feeling of security. I still feel a moment of fear when I see a low-flying plane headed in the direction of the nuclear power plant. I unconsciously hold my breath and think “oh god…” And then I feel ANGRY that I have that response.
When I was in 8th grade, I took a trip to New York with a high school English class to see “Les Miserables” on Broadway. I remember being with my friends, sitting at a table with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge and eating huge slices of pizza. And crying at the end of the show, unable to help it.
One part of the trip that sticks with me is creeping in traffic on our way out of the city. For a girl from the cornfields of central PA, it was all too easy to gawk at the people, and the buildings, and the lights. I was looking out my window, at the buildings that were taller than any I’d ever seen, and was transfixed by one so great that I was unable to see the top. Squinting, twisting my neck, I got nowhere.
That was the only view I ever had of the World Trade Center. Not how it completed the skyline, towering up with the Empire State Building, or a glimpse while walking the streets. Just that one quick glance from the bus window, and the impression of sheer size. The idea would never have crossed my mind that just 5 years later, that structure would no longer exist. It would have been inconceivable, like so much about that day.
I will NOT forget.