I’ve been thinking about this all day, so I thought it was time to write about it.Everyone has a story about where they were on September 11th.
It was my senior year in high school, and I was driving to school, listening to some terrible morning talk radio show. As I turned off the car, I heard him say that someone had flown into the World Trade Center. It was radio and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t understand that he meant a commercial jet – it seemed so much more likely that some poor pilot had gone down in lower Manhattan.
I learned the truth about two hours later. In the days before everyone had internet on their phones (heck, we barely had text messaging!) halfway across the country, it took a while for the news to filter in. My second period class was bowling, real bowling alley (we had 80 minute classes) and they had the TV on. With the towers falling down. I have the memory of looking up at the screens while trying to bowl burned into my eyelids when I think about that day. It’s a tribute to not understanding yet what was happening that we were expected to bowl at all.
By the time we got back to school, everyone knew what was going on, and every TV that had some kind of connection to the outside world was on and we were glued to it for days.
I think it took until my junior year in college when I met someone who had been there to really process what had happened in a personal, connected way. Not just a tragedy that made me cry. I say this because I think I feel a little guilty by how normal our lives were by comparison. It was a tragedy, but it was also homecoming week. Although we knew logically that this was way bigger than us and way more serious, on an emotional level it seemed totally unfair that it would forever mar our experience during our senior year. It produced what I’ll describe as hysteria, in which because we felt we were being asked by the adults in the community to give up our homecoming, we were more spirited and raucous than usual. Even as we were all a little uncomfortable underneath, even as the world had fallen apart just a few days before.
For me, aside from this unspeakable tragedy, it also meant a cancelled NFTY youth group event in St. Louis. It was the fall Leadership Training Institute. I lived and breathed for those events, where I would see most of my friends in person. I understand better now than I did then why it was cancelled: no one really wanted to let anyone out of their sight at that point. For us a high schoolers, it was depriving us of a chance of seeing some of our closest friends and processing our fear and grief together. It was, of course, the right decision, but it felt so bad at the time. I spent the weekend looking through pictures from our summer to trip to NYC and putting the several photos of the WTC from June 16, 2011 into a photo frame. They had been worth the real-film photos because I had found the buildings to be very beautiful. I also went to the Homecoming dance, even though I hadn’t planned to since I was supposed to be at the event. Before I went though, my parents hosted a 9/11 prayer service in our living room. I attended in my homecoming dress.
Ten years – more important than 9 or 11? Not really, but it’s tradition. It’s also probably more poignant here than it is halfway across the country – we had a ceremony on campus for the first year anniversary, but I don’t think there’s been one again until this year. Here, it’s more visceral, knowing that the NYU campus is not far away from Ground Zero, or as Mayor Bloomberg prefers – One World Trade Center. R and I are planning on going to the memorial, as soon as we can figure out our new schedules enough to get tickets.
There’s another strange thing – because I was 17 when it happened, I am among the youngest who remember the events as something close to an adult. Freshmen on campus this year were 8 when it happened. It’s like that with every big event, but it seems weirder, since they don’t seem that much younger than me anymore.
I don’t have a profound truth. Just some memories and some tears. I hope we are all comforted with our remembrance and can work for a better, brighter future for all of us, together, whoever we are. I encourage you to share your memories here, or at any of the many websites that are encouraging submissions.
Shabbat Shalom – peace for all the world.