I started out today to write a post about financial aid and how much I hate it, because that is what I have been doing today. That post is, perhaps, for another day.
I knew in sort of a peripheral way that today was September 11th, but I had not stopped to think about it much. Guiltily, I must admit that I didn’t stop and let it hit me until I was watching Bowling for Columbine on Bravo this afternoon. I’d been alternately running around and yelling at the financial aid office and sitting around feeling sorry for my sinuses. I was doing the latter when the documentary came on.
Now, I’m not going to come down on one side or the other with Michael Moore and the quality of his work, but I will say that what he does effectively is to get your attention and remind you to ask questions and to think about the things you hear and not take them for granted. At least, that is what he accomplishes with me, and that is where he got me today.
I, like everyone else, remember where I was and what I was doing when it happened.
It was probably my second or third week as a freshman at the university. I was living on my own for the first time (albeit in a dorm full of other young people) and was at school over seven hundred miles from home. Our campus is and was a “suitcase campus” where many of the students, and most of the freshman especially, went home on the weekends to visit their families and friends which added to my homesickness. I had my first boyfriend, and he was yet another thousand miles away.
I’d just gotten up for my 9:30 class. I routinely woke up to the clock radio, and that morning they were saying that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. Somehow, I thought they were joking—joking poorly, but joking nonetheless. I think it was that this momentous news was given in the disc jockeys’ well-trained, singsong on air cadences that made me think so. It nagged at me, and I checked the news on CNN.com. I was thinking that if this were a joke, I was going to be writing an angry letter. How tasteless of them.
Then, I saw the picture right there on CNN’s homepage. Two tall buildings like perfect mirror images of each other except for the fiery explosion in the side of one and the thick clouds of black smoke billowing out of the other. If you clicked past the headline to look at the story itself, you saw more pictures of people in their business suits running panicked through the street sobbing and covered in a thick layer of grey dust from the tops of their well-coifed heads down to their leather briefcases and Ferragamo shoes. The images were terrifying.
It’s funny that I never thought of not going to class. It’s funny not just of the gravity of what was going on but also because I’m a chronic class-skipper. Usually, I work myself up to skipping class, skillfully talking myself out of it with my inner silken tongue. I guess I was too shocked to say much to myself that day. I walked to class, surrounded by my peers doing the exact same thing. It was the same thing that we did every day. I think that many people did not quite know yet, because everything seemed so normal. The day wasn’t even quieter yet, since the mornings always started out quiet with bleary eyes, yawns, and personalized plastic mugs of Starbucks coffee. We were our own little picture of New York then, I suppose—a private university full of well-groomed young people with lots of promise walking to work just like we did every other day of the week.
Every class was held that day and the days after that. The feeling was that if classes were cancelled the terrorists had won. Between classes people crowded into the common areas to watch the news and to see what had happened next. I just remember that no one sat to watch; everyone stood.
The whole day passed that way until that night when classes were over and several hours had passed without another incident, after the stillness of shock gave way to the busy activity of fear. I called my family to make sure that none had been flying and that my cousin who lived in New York City was alright. I called the then-boyfriend to check in with him and desperately talk him out of joining the armed forces. Fortunately for him, there was a week to lapse between 9/11 and his eighteenth birthday, and his mother had intervened and talked him out of signing up. I spent a lot of time calling home and calling those of my friends in other towns and talking things over. However, my friends at the university and I did not discuss it much at all. I think that would have made the possibility that such a thing could have happened in our town less remote than we would have liked it.
The figure of speech, “The world stood still,” never seemed to be a very visual one to me until I saw all of those people stopped dead still staring at the news and at each other not knowing what to say. I think that is what we all did that day. Stand still in shock. And I think that is what we should do today: stand still in reverence for what has happened and the age of certainty that has passed. Then, when we have stopped, go on again with day-to-day life and have our own small victory against fear, those who feel it, and those who wield it like a weapon.
Now, I’ve stopped, and I can move on.