On September 11, 2001, I was a senior at Stetson University in DeLand, FL. I got up that morning, showered and dressed, and headed out the door of my little room on the second floor of the Wesley House shortly after 10:00 AM, late as usual for my work-study job tutoring at the music library. One of my housemates, Becky, was sitting on the couch in the upstairs living area, her face looking ashen and her eyes focused on the T.V. I started to rush past, because I was late, and of course it's rude to linger too long between a person and the T.V. screen they are watching, and she stopped me, saying, "Joie, you won't believe this. Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center." She told me that one of the buildings had collapsed because of the damage. I admit at that time I had only a vague concept of what and where the “World Trade Center” was. I glanced at the TV, at the image of fire and smoke coming from the remaining skyscraper, and I said something like, "Oh that's awful," without really thinking much about it. I was late for work, after all.
But as I walked along Woodland Blvd toward the School of Music, I had time to ponder the news a little more carefully. I didn't get very many details from that conversation with Becky, and so I was thinking that the "two planes" were small planes that had, perhaps, experienced some sort of navigational error. But as I walked along it suddenly occurred to me that this made no sense at all. TWO planes crashed into TWO buildings?! That couldn't be an accident! I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, clutching my chest. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe the level of evil and despair that a person would have to have to do something like that--to deliberately take their own life and countless others in one blow. And worse still, it was not only one person who had done this--there were at least two planes, so there had to be at least two people, if not more. How could such a thing happen? Those were my thoughts as I made my way to work that morning, no longer caring at all that I was late.
The rest of my day was much the same as many of yours: checking news websites and finding them crashed due to ridiculous amounts of traffic; normal activities--in my case, classes--suspended due to the tragedy; people gluing themselves to the TV; etc. The footage was on almost constantly on the Wesley House downstairs TV. Since the house I lived in was a campus ministry, our downstairs living room (the residents had a private one upstairs, which was where I first heard the news from Becky that morning) became a place for people to gather, watch the footage, discuss, and commiserate. I would join them, watching the endless replay of those surreal images--the south tower being hit by the second plane, and each of the towers collapsing into dust and smoke; then, when it got to be too much, I would retreat upstairs for a while, only to be drawn back out again later. I couldn't handle the images; I couldn't resist them, either.
I recall there was a memorial service held in Stetson's beautiful Elizabeth Hall chapel, but I think it might have been the following day. We sang “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” As I was raised in a tradition that was pretty far removed from Luther, the hymn was unfamiliar to me prior to that.
Ten years is a long time to me—roughly one third of my life so far—and, unlike some of my friends who have commented on the anniversary today, I don't feel like “it could've been yesterday”. My life has been through too many changes since then. Our country has been through too many changes. Ten years later I browse through op-eds online, from sources as disparate as The Washington Post and Al-Jazeera. I skim the comments to such articles, which contain a wide range of responses: conspiracy theories offering the “truth” about what “really” happened; rants against Islam; rants against Zionism; rants against one political party, or the other, or both; cynical observations about the decline of US economic power; etc. I despair that there is no answer, no solution, to the problems of hatred, terror, and injustice. I worry that my country really is in decline. I still find hope in my faith, in the assurance that “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”--but faith can't erase the fact that there are still evil and suffering and moral dilemmas to face. That was something I knew “when I was one-and-twenty”—but only in a vague, intellectual way.
With time the details of that day have become fuzzy; the feelings it evoked, however, aren't as easily forgotten. That moment of realization under the shade of the trees outside Allen Hall, on my way to work that morning, still stands out in my mind. That was my moment of innocence lost.
This entry was originally posted at http://hymnia.dreamwidth.org/144844.html.