A Decade Ago

When I was very very little and the Persian Gulf War was going on, I remember seeing a show on tv one day aimed at helping kids understand what was going on. There was a woman seated on a chair, with children all around her, answering questions about this war. The only thing I really remembering hearing from it, as I always thought about it, was that she told them, "You don't have to worry about this. It's happening very far away from here. Our soldiers are fighting people who can't come over here and hurt you or your family. You are safe."

In the era I grew up, that's what we understood to be true.

*******

In the beginning of my second year in university, when I was 18, one morning changed that.

Usually I woke up to music, or maybe DJs joking around on their morning show. The songs or upbeat voices would stir me out of my too few hours of sleep, and I would press snooze once or twice. That morning as I slowly awoke and mustered the strength to climb out of bed, the sound from my radio alarm clock was different. It was just voices, very serious voices. It didn’t quite register until the voices came back on for the 3rd time after a couple hits of the snooze that some news broadcast must be interrupting the morning music show, and that it sounded like they were staying on the same topic. Something about a plane, maybe something about a building… I was still too groggy to comprehend.

I hurried up to my classroom at the top of campus, and something didn’t feel right. The few people I passed looked hurried and distressed.

I got to the back door of the class at 8:03. Professor Longman was talking, his voice trembling. I could hear someone quietly crying. He then mentioned vague details I hadn't yet gathered..planes hitting buildings in New York City, chaos and damage somewhere around the Capitol, the victims and their families. Then he dismissed class because, as he said, "I'm sure the only thing all of us want to do is watch tv to find out more about what is going on." I ran down to the dining commons to get the news on the biggest screen around, and maybe find a friend and hear more of the reaction from around campus.

I walked into the dining commons to an eery sort of sight I'd never seen before... hundreds of students transfixed, plates of food forgotten, jaws dropped, staring at the flat screen tvs. Their faces registered fear, but more than anything they looked shocked. I joined the crowd to finally see my first images of the day. Everything was being played over and over... planes flying into towers, flames and smoke, people running down the streets of NYC. We felt so behind, being on the West Coast, and we didn't understand what had happened already and what was just happening. That image of the second plane hitting was the most frightening thing I'd ever seen. Terrifying. Then there were images of the disaster at the Pentagon. Reporters saying that there were maybe another plane or a few other planes to be worried about. And then, the footage showing the buildings collapsing. That was absolutely unreal. When you look on Youtube for news broadcasts that watched it live, many of them didn't actually understand what was going on, it was too unbelievable that the building collapsed. Many of us had to see it a few times to really get it... the Twin Towers no longer stood. Like it was a movie. It was like we were watching a movie... there was no way to know how to react when what you're seeing just happened to some of the biggest and most important buildings in your country. And, as the speculation grew that morning, it likely happened as a result of a full scale strategic terrorist attack against our country. And it seemed like there were more unknown attacks happening. We didn't know what to say to each other. It was overwhelmingly scary, like you weren't safe that day and like you'd have a hard time feeling safe ever again. And it felt like we were hated with a passion that we, my peers, never truly knew existed.

I called in to the tapas restaurant where I worked, and they confirmed that they certainly didn't anticipate getting any business that afternoon so I didn't have to come in. From what I remember most classes were canceled, and then our chaplain invited all the students to gather and discuss and hold a vigil for what was going on. Apart from that, my suitemates and I spent the rest of the day sitting in my room, transfixed to the tv, and doing mindless things like painting our nails while trying to piece together what the day would mean and what tomorrow would look like and how things would change... as best as our eighteen and nineteen year old selves could.

That was a dynamic and transformational year for me in many other ways, my second year of university, but it was kicked off by September 11th. I'll never forget how that day played out for me, and I think it's been very interesting to have experienced it on the cusp of becoming an adult and have it shape my adult life thus far.

*******

The nation that you know to be your own when growing up, that you subconsciously learn to understand through the stories around you and the history books and the news, as being strong and capable and although not totally good and blameless, attempting to act for good, became a nation that others abhorred and plotted to destroy. That's the general way that my peers and I had understood the spirit of our country and our place on the world stage, and of course, we necessarily had to face so many other perspectives. The day changed so many things. And, we felt so much grief and hurt, and it seemed like the rubble from the collapsed towers was too great to ever be cleared. Everything about that day dominated life for months.

The point of me putting this post up around the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was actually because I've been thinking the last week about how my American peers and I saw the rest of the world afterwards, and to remind us and myself of the reaction and reflection coming from the rest of the world.

It took some time for the dust to clear and when you're grieving, you aren't always aware of who is comforting you, who is showing their support to you. You're just trying to pick up the pieces. Very quickly afterwards, our nation got to war, and it felt like as the dust was clearing, many countries were mad at us for what we were doing abroad. Some of my friends and I who traveled to Europe two years later for a semester, in the fall of 2003, moved around those countries a bit warily in some respects, never knowing who might get angry with us as Americans or lash out in conversation. Any travel abroad I did before 9/11 wasn't framed that way, and any that I've done since, has usually been.

I've just been reading so much more this week pointing out what countries did in the aftermath to show their support. It's nice to be aware, in hindsight, of things that may have been heard but not remembered at the time.

Both Ireland and Israel declared a national day of mourning two days later.
France ran a headline saying "We are all Americans."
In Germany there was a 200,000 person march to show solidarity with America.
In Iran there were crowds attending candlelit vigils and a moment of silence observed by 60,000 spectators at a soccer stadium.
There was this gift to the US from a tribe in Kenya.
Cuba expressed solidarity and offered air and medical facilities.
Russia's president called Condoleeza Rice to say that any pre-existing hostility the countries had would be put aside while we worked through the tragedy.

I thought that living in Sweden would mean I felt isolated from any coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I thought it would be a bit of a lonely day (I tend to be sentimental and want to have access to that stuff, beyond just reading news articles about it). But two tv stations covered the live broadcast, and newspapers ran front page headlines about it that day and the day after. It's been so interesting to see the coverage given from a distance, with foreign perspectives, and hear how every person I know here remembers where they were when they heard what happened that day as well. They care more than I expected.


....Here's an article from Sweden, published on the anniversary which gives some interesting Swedish-American perspectives on the event and the effects on the world and Sweden since.

Comments

  1. I love reading others stories about where they were that morning. Can't wait to read the article you linked to. Love, Lesley

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts