Where were you when the world stopped turning?

I was 25 and the mom of two small girls. We had spent the night at my husband’s childhood home in Brick, NJ and headed back to our home in Ocean Grove, NJ early on the morning of 9/11/2001. It was a beautiful September morning, with a sky clear as crystal. My husband headed to Starbucks for his shift and I went home and put on PBS for the kids-Barney was on. Around 9 am, Barney ended and I decided to watch a morning talk show, but when I turned on channel 4 an odd image caught my eye. There on the screen was one of the Twin Towers, seemingly on fire.

The reporters were saying that a small plane had hit the building. I called my friend to ask her if she had seen it. As I stood there staring at the screen, I watched another plane fly into the other building, live on TV. At that moment I knew it was no accident. Something was wrong and I started to feel panicked. New York did not feel that far away, a little too close for comfort. Soon after that I found out that another plane had hit the Pentagon, and in that moment it felt like the sky was falling, like planes were going to be dropping onto us from above. I gathered my babies and some supplies and jumped in our car. I decided I would drive south the 25 minutes to a friend’s home. I needed to not be alone, I needed to be with people I loved. I was very, very afraid.

We got in the car in a hurry and, in the chaos, I decided it would be really important to get gasoline.  I figured it might be Middle Eastern terrorists that were responsible for the attack, so I wanted to get gas before prices went up (I guess I get kind of matter-of-fact in the face of a tragedy). As I drove, south I listened to the radio. While I was in the car, the first tower fell, and then moments later, the second. The radio went very silent at that moment and I remember the radio announcer coming on, his voice filled with awe and disbelief, and saying, “The Twin Towers are no more. The Towers have fallen. They are gone.” And then more silence. I was filled with anger and I punched my horn and broke it. (Which in hindsight, was a little bit funny because I then had to drive the 25 minutes south with my horn blasting a constant sick-sounding moan.)

I hurried down to my friend’s home in Point Pleasant, NJ. We all had a need to be together. By the time I got there the horrific images of a city in armageddon were all over the tv screen. It was surreal to watch New Yorkers fleeing for their lives, covered in ash, running from a giant cloud, like a scene from a movie.We watched in awe for hours, not knowing what would be next.

We heard about the plane in Pennsylvania and then around 3 pm we got word. Another friend came over and told us. A lovely, sweet couple from our church was on the plane that went down in the corn field, Flight 93. The Petersons, Don and Jean, were on their way to a family reunion in California. They were supposed to be on the next flight, but were offered seats on the earlier one and took the opportunity. Knowing someone who was lost on that day, in that way, was a life-altering experience. Don and Jean were two of the sweetest, most generous people I have known. Don was always smiling and friendly and willing to listen. They were people of means and gave freely to others. They were even in talks with friends of ours about lending them a down payment to help them buy a home.  Their deaths brought a whole other extremely personal level of sorrow that day and made the event very real. It was unbelievable to know we would never see them again, that their plane really did go down, that those events really did happen.

In the days that followed, life came to a bit of a standstill. We gathered at the homes of friends and watched the news together. We hoped for rescues, watched as memorial services began, heard the stories of families desperately looking for their loved ones. Living so close to New York, it felt like everyone knew someone who was lost or who had lost someone. It was a very twilight-zone feeling time, and yet it seemed to bring our community together in a way I had never and have not since experienced.

And now ten years have passed. I am a very different person now. My children are not babies anymore; I live in an entirely different place far removed from New York City; my politics have shifted a bit. I have thought at times that I no longer know what I think about that day, why it happened, what my reaction should be. What should I tell my kids? How can I tell them about the day in a way that won’t foster hatred in them? Then, I pause and remember that I don’t need to have some grand, insightful philosophical response to 9/11.

I only need remember the injury to humanity on that day. The people in those buildings were not all Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. They were not all white or black or Asian or Hispanic; they were not all American. They weren’t just Christian or Muslim or Jewish or atheist, but they were all humans with stories, with parents and children and siblings. They were all folks who just went to work that day or got on a plane to visit family. The men who took the planes were human, too, who, for various reasons, became convinced that this was the good and right thing to do. So, when I look back on that day 10 years later, I just let myself mourn because humanity, my humanity, our humanity, was injured that day and it was a very sad and sorrowful time. And this is what I will share with my children.

Regardless of what you do this weekend, whether you cry or not, talk about what the government should have done or not, whether you wave a flag or feel ashamed of it, remember to remember. Remember your human-ness and remember that on that day humans received a great blow by having their lives or their loved ones taken from them in a violent and horrific way; and other humans showed their deeply-felt wounds by flying planes into buildings to kill people. We don’t all have to be united on our opinions of that day, but perhaps we can unite around our humanity and acknowledge the ways in which it was forever altered on that bright, clear day in September, 2001.


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