With everyone posting their various memories from September 11th all over the interwebs over the last few days, I thought that I might join the discussion with just a few comments regarding what I remember from that day. These comments aren’t meant to be an exhaustive retelling of what happened on that day, but rather what I remember going on in my immediate surroundings before, during, and after the terrorist attacks in Manhattan, Shanksville, and Washington, DC.
The first thing I remember is my Mom waking me up by calling me on the phone. I was only living in the fraternity house for a few weeks and school only just started the week prior. I didn’t have class until a little bit later that day so I was sleeping in. Anyway, I didn’t have a cell phone yet so my Mom called me on my house line (I was the only one in the fraternity house with a house line – more on that later) and wanted to know if I was watching the news. I said no, but flipped on the television to see what she was talking about. I hopped from MSNBC (my channel of choice back then) to CNN and finally to FOX News to see what was going on. And what I saw was pretty amazing – one of the buildings that comprised the Twin Towers was burning… and pretty high up, too!
I asked my Mom what was going on and she said a plane flew into one of the towers. We talked for a few minutes and then hung up. I kept laying in bed watching the television wondering if they were going to show a replay of the plane going into the building. And as I laid there watching the television screen, it looked like I got what I was looking for because I saw a plane fly directly into one of the buildings. Except, as I was watching the television I focused in a little bit more and noticed that there was already a building burning – this must have been a second plane! It was shocking to see that happen on live television. Absolutely, utterly shocking to witness.
Now, I don’t want to go through a minute-by-minute recap of that day, but needless to say that within an hour or so the entire fraternity house was awake and all classes had been canceled on campus. But unlike other days off from school, the guys didn’t rush out to get some food and drink to enjoy the day – we were all glued to the large screen television in the living room waiting to see what would happen next. Right after the plane flew into the Pentagon, I remember thinking and saying out loud that the airspace over the Pentagon was restricted and no one could get over it in the first place (I was wrong). I remember flipping through all of the channels on the dial and, remarkably, every single channel on the dial was either broadcasting news coverage of the terrorist attacks or on standby with a message of condolence related to the attacks. And folks, when I say that every channel was covering the attacks or on standby – I mean every channel on the dial. Every single one. It was truly a moment in television history, for sure.
One of the guys who lived in our house was a volunteer fireman. Somewhere around midday – after both towers had fallen – he jumped in his car and went to New York City to help with recovery efforts. When he came back later that night not only were we all still glued to the television, but he had the World Trade Center dust on his fireman boots and gear. It was unbelievable.
Another one of my vibrant memories of that entire situation was how poorly one of my professors handled the situation. I don’t know if I’ve ever written about this particular professor, but he was straight out of the 1940’s university setting – down the ultra elitist attitude and tweed elbow patches on his jacket. Anyway, what I remembered about this first class back on campus (the day following the attacks) was that this professor opened the class by saying, “Notwithstanding the events of yesterday morning, we are here for a different reason. So, let’s open our books to chapter one and begin reading about Cain and Abel.”
I was amazed at how cold and callous that professor was that night – especially considering that he was talking to a room filled with scared, horrified college students. This was a British Literature class where, over the course of the ensuing semester, we talked about traditional literary themes like good versus evil and the loss of innocence. Looking back, I shake my head at the lost opportunity that this professor let slip through his fingers. Here he had a chance to not just talk about these themes, but to show real world examples of these themes occurring all around us.
Anyway, the guys I lived with and I stayed up all night watching coverage of the cleanup and recovery efforts in New York City. We had news coverage on all day, every day. Everyone – including me – started caring a lot more about politics and who was trying to do what in our political leadership. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the guys I lived with as well as the students on campus either became Republicans or began voting Republican. It was the general feeling of the nation and that feeling was alive and well on Monmouth University’s campus.
It was a scary and yet fascinating time to be a college student.
And it was only ten years ago. On the one hand, it feels like September 11th happened yesterday. But on the other hand, the world has changed so much since then. It makes me wonder where we’ll be in another ten years. Hopefully, terrorism will continue to decline over the next ten years and we can – as a global society – begin working towards a stronger world peace. No, not the hippie version of world peace where we’re all holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Instead, I hope we can move towards a real, workable peace that serves to advance the human race as a whole.
Moving in that direction seemed impossible ten years ago. But today it seems like a totally reasonable expectation for the future. What an amazing ten years…