Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Remember When . . . The Towers Came Down?

This isn't exactly long-past history, but as part of my 9/11 Remembrance Week, today I'd like to take a look back at where we were on that day. I'll tell a bit of my story, and then I would love to hear from you.

My husband and I were newlyweds, having just married in June of 2001. We were still in school, and Tuesdays meant music lab--class started at 8:50 and didn't let out until lunch time. David and I always met in the hallway outside class, walked to our car, and drove home for lunch. We had to be back for our respective work-study jobs by 1, then had one more class at the end of the day.

Annapolis traffic can be annoying, especially around on-ramps to Rt. 50. But that day as we drove up Rowe Blvd, we frowned over a rather odd sight--two unmarked, white haz-mat vans cutting through lanes of traffic and headed for the entrance to 50 West--the road that led to D.C. Shrugging it off--after all, we saw all manner of strange government vehicles in the state's capital--we continued to our apartment.

We'd no sooner walked in the door than our phone rang. David answered as I toed off my shoes and locked the door behind us. The caller ID would have told him it was his mother, so he undoubtedly greeted her accordingly. But all I remember is him saying, "What?" and reaching for the remote. To me he said, "Planes flew into the World Trade Center. They've collapsed."

It was the kind of news I'd never in my life had to deal with, and all I could think to say was, "You're kidding, right? They didn't collapse." Right about then he found a channel on TV that showed one of the towers collapsing.

Presumably we ate--frankly, I don't remember. I just remember going back into town and finding the roads clearer than usual, and the college . . . strange. See, St. John's is a bubble removed from the outside world. There are no TVs, no cable even if you bring one. But when we stepped back onto campus that afternoon, everyone was plugged into the outside world. Televisions had miraculously appeared in every classroom, and had somehow found connections to news shows. Radios blared from every room. I remember sitting in the basement of the Admissions Office, trying to get done what work needed done, and listening to the radio. Hearing an announcement saying all non-crucial personnel at the NSA were ordered to evacuate.

That night the dinner I had planned was spaghetti with twisty breadsticks. Don't ask me why I remember that--but it's a meal I've never made again. Every time I've tried to make those breadsticks (with something else), I hear that terrible news reverberating through my mind again. Sorry, Pillsbury--our breadsticks now must be straight.

It was about then that I noticed our newspaper never arrived for the day--and a few minutes later I heard it smack against our door. The Capitol had delayed its printing (it's an afternoon paper) to report the news. So I have one of (I assume) few newspapers reporting the event that is dated September 11, 2001. (I just dug it out of my memory chest, where it's been sitting for 10 years with the other papers from that week.)

The surreal part (other than the obvious) was the transformation within Annapolis. The Naval Academy takes up the entire flank of the city, and is directly across the street from St. John's. Most of the rest of Historic Annapolis is government buildings. On Wednesday, they were all empty. The waterfront boasted no tourists, only FBI agents. All roads leading toward the Naval Academy were blockaded by armed guards--which meant that to get onto campus, we had to show our student IDs and say we had class/work to go to.

I remember thinking as we drove to school one day that week that our whole world had changed. That things which had seemed so important a few short days before simply didn't matter anymore. I was devastated by the events, and buoyed by the American spirit that rose up from the ashes. I remember wondering what it would mean for me as a writer--how any novel could ever have meaning again.

I remember driving home that weekend and seeing messages of faith and prayer all along the highway, "God Bless America" spelled out with plastic cups shoved in chain-link fencing.

I remember being so proud of my country, and the kinship I felt with my fellow Americans, who were, for the only time I can think of, united.

And today I miss that. I miss the union, I miss the feeling of pride that you couldn't escape even when driving down the road. I miss looking out at my neighbors, my officials, my state and nation and thinking, "Someone did wrong to us--but we handled it right."

Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing? What memory stands out in your recollection from that time of turmoil and grief? Let's remember together.


  1. I was in college as well, though in Wisconsin and not nearly as close to D.C. or NYC as Roseanna, which I'm thankful for. I'm pretty sure I didn't want to be close to everything that happened.

    At the beginning of one of my Bible classes, this old, slightly goofy professor came in and gave us the news. They'd just announced on the radio that a plane ran into one of the World Trade Center towers. Our teacher reported that it was a suspected terrorist attack, but I don't think anyone really believed him. He was a cliche scatter-brained professor. So while we all thought the Trade Center news was terrible, no one really took the "terrorist" part seriously.

    The next hour, when we went to chapel, the college president announced the news. This time both towers had been hit and it was undoubtedly terrorist related. We prayed for an extra long time, but I still don't think anyone realized the full ramifications of what was happening. The towers hadn't fallen yet, and I don't remember the pentagon being mentioned.

    After chapel, I went to the student center where there was this one, giant, TV. I stood on the opposite side of the huge room and still remember seeing the planes fly into the buildings. I'm pretty sure the towers hadn't collapsed by that point either. It wasn't until later that afternoon that I saw the replay of them falling.

    And I'm with you, Roseanna. I miss the mutual feeling that we were a country, we were attacked, we'd been terribly wrong, and we needed to respond. Now it seems like everyone just wants to argue miniscule points about how we responded. I'm proud we did something as a nation, and I'm proud of what we've done over the past ten years, because there hasn't been another attack of such magnitude on US soil. That's something I'm grateful for every day.

  2. Great point, Naomi, about how our nation's actions have prevented another such attack--think what you will about them, that's something BIG.

    I too couldn't wrap my mind around the "terrorist" part at first. When we first watched the replay of them coming down, I said something like, "Was it an accident?"

    And my hubby shook his head. "Terrorists." Until then, "terrorists" had been this idea that seemed pretty far removed from my life.

    And you know, it's the only time I can remember where my college made classes optional for the entire student body. But most of us still went so we could gather together and talk.

  3. The attacks occurred the day after my 39th birthday and I was deeply, DEEPLY grieving the loss of my mother, who had passed away in my arms, three weeks before. I felt so lost without her. I can't explain it. Still I tear up typing this. Then to see such hatred and destruction, death and despair. It was overwhelming.

    I held my children in my arms that morning, weeping for all the lives lost and for those left, knowing what utter darkness it would be for some!

    On the other hand, I was so proud of our president and leaders, our rescue workers and volunteers! Americans came together in what seemed like a miracle, showing such unconditional love for one another. There was patriotism for our country and pride in being an American. We didn't apologize for who we were. Not sure that can be said about our country now and that grieves me.

  4. I was...six. Living near Detroit, Michigan. I can faintly remember seeing the newspapers, but I have never seen live footage...we didn't have a TV. Wow, never get rid of that paper! It's an amazing thing.

  5. I was living in Holland (the Netherlands) at the time and just happened to be watching CNN. I watched the entire thing unfold before my eyes. The newscasters went from reporting ordinary news to “this just in” and there were the towers. They showed the first plane hitting, and while they debated whether or not it was an accident or on purpose, the second plane flew into the next tower. Not long after that, I watched both towers go down. I couldn’t believe it. When I was eighteen, I’d stood on the roof of one of those towers, and those buildings (after collapsing) would have wiped out the entire center of Amsterdam. How could these “little” planes have such a huge impact?

    What was especially disturbing during this time was the fact that I was outside the US and had to witness first hand (in my face) the reaction of the middle-eastern students and Islamic leaders. They were cheering in the streets!!! For days!!! And I won’t repeat the hateful things they would say. Gulp!

    I was also concerned about our neighbor, wondering if they were also cheering about what happened because they were also Muslim and from Afghanistan. Of course, they knew we were an American family (our kids played together), so I was hesitant to knock on her door. A few days after the attack, she came to my door. She told me that she had family in New York and had no idea if they were safe or not because she couldn’t reach anyone. Anyway, she was suffering with us, and I felt ashamed for not having been the first to reach out to her. Later, it turned out her family was safe and all was well.

    Months after the attacks, we still had to be careful, avoiding Islamic neighborhoods that had signs hung up on shop windows, saying things like: Yankees Go Home, etc. That was in Antwerp, Belgium. My husband made it clear that we were not to speak English outside the home (although, all the neighbors in our little village knew we were part American; my husband is Dutch; and we had three young children at the time). But we followed his orders. No more English outside the home.

  6. Wow, Sandi, I'd never stopped to think about what it would have been like for an American overseas at the time. How scary! But I loved hearing about the connection with your neighbor who had family in New York.

  7. I was at Ladies' Bible Study (my six-month-old son was in the nursery). The pastor walked in and said something to his wife (the Bible Study leader) and she talked to us. We just comforted each other and talked about it. No TV until we got home.

    It had a huge impact on me. I was glued to the TV for quite a while. I was also blessed by the unity I saw, and am SO sad that it seems to be gone.

    I've been pondering how much of the anniversary TV shows/specials I want to watch. Some, I know, but I don't want to be inundated with it. And how about the kids? We've talked a bit, but they're young (my son is my oldest).

  8. I know what you mean, Joanne. Hubby and I have been watching some of the stuff in the past few weeks, and I imagine we'll watch the big special that'll be on all 70 networks simultaneously. But figuring out how much to let the kids see is tough. My daughter's 5 (my oldest), and when she saw the newspaper pictured above (she was with me as I dug it out), she was pretty stricken, especially when I said people did it on purpose. She just can't fathom people doing something like that KNOWINGLY.

    You know, I can't either.

  9. I had just finished eating breakfast and went back to my room to brush my teeth before leaving for work. I was 18, almost 19, and had graduated from high school that May.

    I'd left the radio on, and when I walked back into my room the president was talking. On a station that never aired interviews of any kind. I ran back into the living room, grabbed the remote from my mom and turned CNN on. Twenty minutes later I saw the second plane fly in.

    It was a good thing I worked for my dad because I sat there for nearly 2 hours. When I finally made it to the office, the office manager was the only one there and she was livid that I was so late. She didn't know yet what had happened. The entire state went into panic mode and locked down all of the oil refineries. I have a lot of family in Lake Charles working in various refineries. Even the mall closed that day and remained closed for another three days.

    Then we heard the president was at Barksdale AFB, 2 hours northwest. We really panicked! We all thought Louisiana would be next because the president was here and because of all the oil stuff.

    It was a very quiet week at the office. I kept the radio on in the background all the time. 9/11 was the final push to get cable Internet in the office, and then later at the house. I also remember watching the statue of Saddam be pulled down, at the office.

    I'm so thankful we had a president with a backbone, who was willing to take the war to their turf and show them we weren't going to sit there and let them destroy us.

  10. I was sitting in my 2nd period ninth grade aglebra class, when a student rushed in telling our math teacher to turn on the TV that we had been attacked. Through out the whole day all our teachers had the tv's on. It was surreal watching the towers fall.

    I spent the day in shock, I don't think it really sunk in what it meant till I got home that day. The effects of 9/11 become real to me when I got home from school to see my dad packing, and telling me that his unit had been put on alert; that he could be depoyed at any time.

    Also not knowing where my great aunt was, she worked in the world trade center. We didn't know what happened for days, she wasn't at work that day, because her alarm clock didn't go off that morning.


  11. My name is Justina Page. I have been married now for 24 wonderful years to the amn of my dreams, James Page Jr. The fruit of our union was six sons, five single births and one set of twins. In September of 2001 my husband was a Senior Electrical Engineer for a Holland based engineering firm that required travel from time to time. He had his ticket and was scheduled to be in a meeting in New York City at the North Tower at 8am on September 11. A couple of days before that trip he was called to an emergency meeting in Florida and they sent his coworker instead. Fortunately, the coworker got sick, had to stay in bed that morning, and did not make it to the meeting. I thank God so much for his grace to our family. We had just suffered a tragic housefire in 1999 where we lost our 22 month old son and the survivng twin and myself were seriously injured. God knows how much we can bear. Still my heart goes out to the many people that where not so fortunate. May the God of all consolation grant them peace that surpassess all understanding.

  12. I cannot read comments about nor watch TV shows about 9/11 without tears filling my eyes, even as they do now. I was living on the west coast at the time of the attack. I’d gotten up a bit earlier due to a weekly sales meeting. My son called me, said, "Mom, turn on the TV. We're under attack. Two planes have flown into the Twin Towers and one hit the Pentagon. A plane has crashed in Pa." My first reaction was one of unbelief because it was unbelievable. He said, "No, mom, it is true. Turn on the TV." I did and hung up the phone. All I could do was stand sobbing as I watched and cry, "God have mercy, God have mercy." No other words, no other prayer found their way to my lips.
    Somehow, I managed to get ready for work, though tears streamed down my face. The sales meeting continued but I could not attend. I sat at my desk, listening and watching the coverage. A certain amount of rage flowed through me at what seemed to be other people's apathy. It seemed they just didn't get it. Indeed that was probably the truth until they sat and watched the magnitude of the attack. For days I watched everything there was — until the day came when my mind and heart said, "No more." The grief was too great. Enough was enough. Even now, as I recall, I can barely see to pin these words. Deep within lies a deep sadness and a rage against all within and without who would destroy our way of life, our freedom given to us by God. We must never forget and we must fight the enemies of freedom.