11 September 2010

Where Were You... 9/11

     Today is one of those days when you will probably hear the phrase, "where were you" a lot.  This is a phrase that gets used often to inquire about someone's memories of an historic or cultural event. Sadly, today the question will be a sad one: Where were you on September 11th? This is where I was:

     In the fall of 2001 I was a senior in high school. Many people say that senior year is the best year, and for me this was turning out to be true.  Senior year meant no more science class (!!!), easy math (or at least I found it to be so) and a bunch of slack classes. I also had a good circle of friends and, despite not being especially outgoing, was attending the occasional social event. But then, suddenly, everything changed.

     On September 11th at 9:30 am, I remember walking through the hallways from my English class in the 600 hallway to my period as an aide for my technology teacher, Mrs. Hill, in the 300 hallway. In other words, I was walking from one side of the school campus to the other. I noticed that something was going on when I was about halfway to my classroom. Teachers were clustered in groups and talking in the hallways, which was abnormal. A large amount of classrooms had their televisions on, which was even more strange.  There was also a strange feeling building - like a tension. The students were all recognizing that something was going on, but most of us hadn't yet figured it out. This classroom change, this shuffling of students and teachers throughout the school, would be the time that the news would spread of the tragic events unfolding in New York, DC and Pennsylvania. When I walked into my third period classroom the lights were off and the television was on. Mrs. Hill was standing in the middle of the room, simply watching the news. I asked her what was going on and she told me that airplanes had flown into buildings in New York. 

     I don't remember if she said that it was the World Trade Center or not, but at that moment it wouldn't have made a difference to me either way. I'd never heard of the World Trade Center. I'm from Georgia and, aside from being born neighboring county's hospital, I have lived in this county my entire life. I have never been on an airplane. I have never traveled any further north than North Carolina - and in 2001 I hadn't even traveled that far!  The tallest building that I have even been in is probably about 30 stories, so a building of 110 stories is an inconceivable height to me.  I did not immediately grasp the magnitude of the events occurring on 9/11. It wouldn't be until I heard about the pentagon that I had a landmark that I could relate to and could understand that the terrorists were attacking symbols of America.

     I spent the rest of the school day watching television. Moving from class to class, almost every teacher postponed their lessons. They wanted students to observe a moment in time that, they said, would impact our lives. With my classmates, I watches as the twin towers fell. News networks ran conflicting stories over what had occurred at the pentagon - was it bomb or another plane? Later in the day, another plane was discovered to have crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Immediately, this event was seen as a victory in a day of terror and loss.  All air traffic in the country had been halted. All local colleges and any high profile landmarks were being closed as well. 

     Before the day was over, it was being said that this would be "our Pearl Harbor." I think that the senior class as a group, out of the entire student body, felt the most impacted by the events. The teachers were looking at us and knew that, as we turned 18, we would be the generation that responded to these events. They knew that these events would lead to war and that some of their students would be the soldiers who fought. Some classmates had already decided to join the military, others declared that they would now be signing up. Everyone wanted to go give blood and do something to help. But in that moment we were helpless to do anything.

    School let out at 2:10 pm and students headed home where we would turn on our televisions and continued to follow the tv coverage. Seeing individual people, covered in dust, helping others, walking across bridges to escape a city under attack - these are the images that stick with me. Although I don't know anyone who was in NY, DC or PA that day, I saw the faces of strangers. I saw the signs with the photos of the missing and I stayed tuned to news coverage to see who would be found. But really, very few ever were.

     Shortly after 9/11, my sister, a few friends and I attended a memorial event at the local mall. Songs of hope and remembrance were sung, inspirational speeches were given, ribbons were worn, and thousands of balloons were released. Each year similar events are held throughout the country as we pause to remember these tragic events. I hope too, that we remember the small bits of goodness that came from those events. The country came together as one. I have never felt so much that I was an American, that we as citizens were united and that together, we could withstand anything. 



3 comments:

Greta Koehl said...

Very vivid and beautifully written account.

Phil Presley said...

Colonial 18 closed early that day. And AMC never closes early.

The official reason was 9-11. But I'm pretty certain that if there wasn't some sort of sewage issues with the toilets it would have remained open . . .

Seriously. You could smell stuff in the lobby. It wasn't pretty.

Sarah Farr said...

I was working at AMC that day. There were only a few customers, and we just stood around talking about it. Scott Redmond was the manager and after getting an email saying it was optional to close, he did pretty much immediately.

Phil, I had forgotten about the restrooms.

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