11 years ago today I was in a gym at the Francisco Torres Towers in Santa Barbara for a 4am sweat-session when a live news program interrupted the Seinfeld re-runs that were usually on the TV. A stoic news reporter, face drawn and voice shaky, told me and millions of other Americans that one of the World Trade Center buildings had been hit by a passenger airplane. My head shook in disbelief. Then reality hit: “My god. We’ve been attacked.”
I listened for a minute or so but didn’t actually hear what was being said. And, in horror, I watched as a second plane smashed into the second tower. The world went dark – and I went numb.
I ran from the gym up 7 flights of stairs to the dorm room I shared with my friend Carrie. We were in the midst of a week-long orientation for new resident assistants and were just getting to know each other. I woke her and told her the news. Just as I had done earlier, she sat in stunned silence.
The USA was under attack. Now – it was happening! Our people were being killed, and they were being killed on American soil. Holy shit.
We knocked on every door we could find to awaken everyone else on the floor. 40 young people sat in stunned silence for hours upon hours watching as the Pentagon was hit, and as another plane crashed in a field. When would it end? Were we safe in our towers of steel and concrete? What about our family and friends back East – we couldn’t get in touch with them. Was everything okay?
More emotions flooded our overwhelmed systems than ever before. We’d never known war before. Especially not war on American land. Our long-held belief that we were safe while at home was shattered. We were shattered. The words “draft into the army” were uttered. So were “we’re all in danger”. All American airports were shut down. The nation was seemingly crippled and in a state of confused disarray.
By the evening, we’d all gathered ourselves enough to head Downtown as a group for dinner. I remember walking the streets and the silence. The knowing glances from everyone. Sad smiles of acknowledgment that today wasn’t a “life as uaual” day. Strangers comforted each other in long embraces. People connected in a way I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since. The world stood still – yet, it kept on turning, too.
11 years ago today, my view of life, of war, of religion and of terrorism changed. In my mind’s eye I still see that image of the President, George W. Bush being told we were under attack. His facial expression belying the calmness he tried to maintain as not to frighten a class of small children he’d been visiting that morning. Say what you want about Bushy, but in that moment he gained my respect.
Today, my heart still aches for those we lost on that day – for their families and for those who will never forget the things they saw, felt and now keep within.
With all of the implications of a presidential election upcoming and factions dividing friends & families across political lines, I urge all Americans to remember this today – WE ARE ONE NATION.
Stand together today, and remember where you were 11 years ago.
Remember when we banded together.
Remember how strangers saved strangers.
Remember, remember, remember…