Friday, September 11, 2009

"Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning, that September day?"

It's hard to believe that it's been eight years since 9/11. Today my heart is heavy for those who lost loved ones in the attack. There were so many innocent lives destroyed needlessly, senselessly.

To be sure, it was a national tragedy affecting millions of Americans, but for those of us who grew up seeing the spectacular view of the Manhattan Skyline from any high point in New Jersey, it hit a lot closer to home. Today is wet and grey, but eight years ago there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was a beautiful late summer day, the second day of my graduate level internship at a behavioral school. I was pretty apprehensive about the placement, but I decided to make the best of things and try to learn all I could. That morning, I arrived a little early and grabbed a cup of coffee from the teacher's lounge, preparing to observe some of the students I would be working with over the next several months.

As I sat in one of the classrooms, someone came in to tell the head teacher that the World Trade Center had just been bombed. She became very upset because her son had just started a new job there that day. She excused herself to leave the room, asking her assistant to take over. I decided to follow her into the main office to find out what was going on. It was then that the secretary informed us that two planes had crashed into the WTC, at least two other planes had been hijacked, and the Pentagon had also just been bombed. We also learned that it was a real possibility that the White House and Capitol could be attacked as well. I immediately thought of my sister who was a sophomore at George Washington University in downtown D.C., and wondered if she might be caught in the middle of all this chaos.

Of course, all the phones and the Internet went down so the only information any of us could get at that time was from a talk radio station in the office. They couldn't report what was happening fast enough. I didn't really know what was going on or how bad things were. Things kind of quieted down for about an hour while I visited another classroom and tried to concentrate on doing my job. During lunch, I remember thinking the skies seemed awfully calm. In fact there was this strange, almost unsettling feeling of calm during that time. I don't know how to fully describe it.

I finally got in touch with my mother around 1:00 in the afternoon, who told me that my sister was alright. She had been dismissed from class early and told to go straight back to her dormitory. Shortly afterwards, I went ahead and met with my first client, a teenage boy who was all worked up about the events he heard going on that day. While I took a look through his file, my supervisor began flipping through students' emergency cards to see if any had parents that worked in New York City. I tried to read the open case report in front of me, but I was so anxious by this point and sick to my stomach. All I wanted to do was leave there and go home since I was desperate to talk with family and friends. I wanted to make sure they were all okay. I wanted to receive the strength that comes through being around people I love and who have faith.

When I arrived at my apartment 15 minutes later, there were three notes on the door, one from each roommate. There were about ten messages on the answering machine from friends and family, all calling to either find out if we were alright or to say that they were. I flipped on the tv to a broadcast about the attacks, and it was like a scene straight out of Godzilla with people running down the streets of Manhattan trying to shield themselves from the flying debris of ashes and metal. I got ready to get back in my car and drive to a prayer meeting that my campus ministry was having at a leader's house, but I couldn't remember how to get there. I drove in a daze and made several wrong turns, so by the time I got there the meeting was over.

My roommates and I stayed glued to the television for the rest of the afternoon. I finally tore myself away to work on a response paper for a class the next day. I honestly don't know how I was able to put five paragraphs together that made any kind of sense, but it didn't much matter because we had just found out classes were cancelled for the following day. After eating dinner, we all piled into somebody's car for another prayer gathering and I just sobbed the whole time. I didn't even know someone personally that died on that day; I was just so shaken up that something like this could happen, right in my own "backyard".

September 11 will always be one of those days on which I can recall exactly what I was doing, what I was wearing, and what I was feeling. It shook me to the core, and brought a true realization that evil exists in this world. It gave me a pride and appreciation for America that I had never had before. I confess that I didn't vote for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. I was a registered democrat, and very proud of that fact. After 9/11, I started leaning a little more to the right. I began to really admire President Bush for how he stepped up as a leader in the days and weeks of the aftermath. I still think he was one of our greatest presidents, despite what all the critics say.

Eight years have passed since that day. We all moved on with our lives and things returned to normal, though for a period of 24 hours or so, it felt like the world had literally stopped. I know to some September 11 is just another day on the calendar. I guess this is my way of saying that I will never forget.

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