Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reflections on the Eleventh Anniversary of 9/11

759.45 miles away. That’s where I was when the world stopped turning.

It was my first year of grad school at Indiana University, where I was enrolled in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Program. My husband, though he was my boyfriend at the time, called and told me to turn on the TV. When I told him I was still in bed and grumbled something about another five minutes, he told me about a plane flying into the World Trade Center Tower. I thought he was joking. And it wasn’t very funny. But the alternative… the reality, if you will, was inconceivable.

I turned on the television and sat silent on the phone, watching the smoke billowing out of the building. I prayed for the people trapped on the upper floors and jammed in the stairwells. And yet pride swelled as the reports of police and firefighters charging into the building began to emerge. At that moment, I was still innocent. Surely, this was a horrible, cataclysmic accident, but it was still, “just” an accident.

And then I saw it. Coming in from right side of the frame was another plane. If an inanimate object can possess human like features, this one flew with purpose. To kill. To destroy. To instill terror. It was successful. I was innocent no longer. There was no way, in my mind, that this was an accident. My thoughts were echoed by the reporters, though at the time, all I heard was my voice repeating over and over again, “Oh my God. Oh my God. All those people.” I was shaking and like so many, tears were flooding down my face.

I reluctantly hung up the phone and threw on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and headed to class. I didn’t know what else to do. There weren’t a lot of people in the quad. But my entire cohort was present and accounted for. I should mention that HESA is one of those touchy, feely, tell us about your problems kind of programs. So we talked about what we were thinking… for about five minutes and then we left. Many of my friends had assistantships working with the students, mostly in Residential Life. I should mention that, for a school in the Midwest, IU has a huge contingent of student from the state of New York. In fact, the Orientation Program packs up every year and sets up shop in the Big Apple, so it’s safe to say that our campus did not escape this attack untouched.

But I worked in research, so I took the day off, went back to my room, changed, and headed over to Wright Quad where I met up with a friend. One thing that stands out about that day is the sound of the campus. There was no laughter. No birds sang a sweet melody. It was as if sound had ceased to exist and the silence was deafening to my ears.

Fast forward four years later.

Eight months into my pregnancy, I can’t wait to have an October baby. I imaged costume themed birthday parties and crazy decorations. But on September 11, 2005, I sat straight up out of a dead sleep. A moment later, my water broke. We went to the hospital and sure enough, this little creature that I had spent more than a year trying to have and 8 months doing everything I could to protect it, was on his way. 

After one particularly horrid contraction, the nurse leaned in and asked, “Does it bother you that your baby will be born on September 11th?” At first, I looked at her in confusion. The first epidural hadn't worked and I was trying to get up the courage to bribe the doctor to do a C-Section, so I have to admit,  my mind wasn't focusing on the date.  But she raised an interesting question everyone else had been avoiding.

My response was, “No. It doesn’t. Because my child, and all the children who have been born since that day are proof they didn't win.” I’m sure I would have said more if not for another contraction.

My son was born the next day, and I have to admit, I was relieved he wouldn’t share the anniversary, and thought occurred to me: His birthday is still momentous. September 12, 2001 was the day the United States of America stood up, dusted itself off and stood with resolve that we would be united. We would stand tall and we would take care of each other.

Fast forward seven years later.

Our country is no longer united. The sense of fellowship is being challenged by the sense of entitlement. We are a better nation than our behavior reflects.

Tomorrow, my little preemie will turn seven. He is still proof that the terrorists did not win. He’s is joyful and happy and innocent. And though I know he too is better than his behavior reflects, especially when dealing with his little brother, he loves with his whole being. There is such goodness in his heart and true compassion in his eyes. He is just one example of what makes this nation great.

A few years ago, we started a tradition of take a birthday cake to local first responder stations in our town as a way to remember and honor those who run into danger while everyone else is fleeing from it. This was his idea and, next to the presents, I think it’s his favorite part of his birthday. Tomorrow we are taking treats to the men and women of the Greenfield Police Department and he was concerned that there might not be any cupcakes for the men and women working the night shift if we took them in before school. So we are making three deliveries: one before school, one after school and I’ll drop some off after shift change.

Today, as we remember, I challenge each of you to think of something you can do to help our country unify behind the greatness we are capable. And as always, BE PASSIONATE about the ones you love. We never know when our fragile time on this earth is up.

So, where were you when the world stopped turning? And more importantly, how has 9/11 made you a better person? If you don't have an answer, what can you do, starting now, to have a response next year?


  1. Wow, this was a cool story. (I also commend you for answering the nurse the way you did--I imagine I might have shot back something nasty mid-contraction). I like your closing remarks. I remember feeling like the time was right to pursue what I wanted since you never knew when something could stop us.

    I blogged about the attacks today, too: my blog

  2. I'm a grad student in a Student Affairs program now! It's nice to find another higher ed person in the writing world. To answer your question, I was in the seventh grade when the world stopped turning. We crowded into another classroom, and watched the second plane hit.

    Even though I was only in middle school, I think that day taught me that bad things can happen. Terrible, unthinkable things. But, just like you said, you have to dust yourself off and keep going. Don't let them win.

    9/11 made me a better person, because it showed me that people can ban together. They can be strong - but only if they're united. And I think that's a message we've lost over the years. Maybe one day we'll remember how strong we were, and learn that our differences don't, and shouldn't, divide us. Or, at least, that's my hope.

  3. This is a lovely, thought-provoking post. I love that you and your son deliver birthday cakes.

    I was at work at the Best Buy Corporate offices in Eden Prairie, MN. We had huge TVs in our department and we just sat and watched, stunned. At one point I couldn't take it anymore and retreated to my cubicle to cry. One of my co-workers came in and asked me if I was okay in a way that made me think she didn't understand why I was so upset. I'll never forget that moment - how was it possible that this hadn't changed her? It changed me.

    I married my husband less than a month later and every detail that I had obsessed over seemed so insignificant. I changed our prayers to include the victims and the heroes, the people they left behind, the people forever scarred by this, and even the people who had carried out the attacks.

    Your question - am I a better person than I was that day on the second floor of BBY HQ? In some ways, yes; in others, no. And it's difficult to say that. Thank you for this challenge. Happy Birthday to your dear boy.

  4. I still remember the jerk missionary who showed up on my campus, preaching at the crowd he was drawing, and saying some of the people who just died in the attacks were now in Hell because they didn't pray, had premarital sex, etc. He claimed he'd been set to come to our campus that day anyway. I also remember being so distracted I actually was walking around campus in a new pair of jeans, the size 14 sticker still on one of the legs. I was so embarrassed when our exchange student in my off-campus housing pointed it out to me and pulled it off that evening!

  5. Incredible post! In a strange sort of 1941 parallel, I was listening to the radio, not watching TV when the planes hit--the confusion relayed by the radio was perhaps even more palpable without the benefit of images. And I was sewing--mending an 18th century jacket for a Revolutionary War living history event. We all called each other that night to reassure ourselves that we wouldn't be cancelling the event, in that spirit of dusting off and standing up again that you describe so well.

    I don't know that I'm a better person, but a more aware person. Everyone alive that day had a before and an after--we all share that. And like you say, despite all this division we currently face, we all still share so much.

    Happy Birthday to your son!