I cannot believe its been seven years since that surreal day.  I still remember so much of it and the days that followed in such detail, that I now understand how my parent’s generation can instantly recall where they were when JFK was shot, and how my grandparent’s generation knows right where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor.  I figure since it’s likely that I will be telling this story someday to my children and maybe even grandchildren, I should document it in writing before more of the lesser details are forgotten.  God willing this will be the only moment like this in my lifetime for me to remember.

I was in my sophomore year at Carson-Newman College, a small Christian school up in Jefferson City, Tennessee (between Knoxville and Pigeon Forge).  Since it was a Christian school, we had to accumulate so many ‘chapel credits’ a semester by going to chapel services or special events.  Chapel was held Tuesday mornings at like 9am or 9:30am.  My roommate Amy decided to go to chapel that morning as did a lot of my friends; I think they were doing an awards ceremony or something.  I however decided to sleep in until I had to get ready for my 10:30am class. 

I remember my alarm went off probably a little after 9, and I kind of remember the radio DJ saying something about a plane hitting the world trade center and how maybe you should check out your news station, but I was in that weird still-kind-of-asleep dreamy state so I didn’t really understand or get what he said. 

A couple of snooze button sessions later I got out of bed and headed to the shower to get ready for my class.  I flipped the TV on before heading into the bathroom as I did everyday so I could listen as I was in the shower.  Only this day I never made it to the shower.

I think my TV was on Good Morning America or the Today Show or something, I’m not sure.  All I remember is staring at the TV.  I think at the time I tuned in, the Pentagon had recently been hit and the first tower had just fallen.  They kept switching between the live feed of the single tower burning and the replays of the second plane hitting and the first tower falling.  It was unbelievable, and one of the few moments in my life where I felt so many strong, overwhelming emotions at once.  Confusion, disbelief, sadness, shock, horror and amazement.  It was so surreal.  I remember opening up my door and frantically looking down the hall of my dorm to see if anyone else was watching this and could verify that this was real and actual happening.  I didn’t see anyone so I rushed back to the TV.  I remember watching in horror as the second tower fell.  That large antennae on the top of the building swaying slightly as it fell before it became hidden within a huge cloud of dust.  Seeing those images of the burning towers now you know what to expect, and you expect them to fall.  However watching that day and trying to simply take in and comprehend what had already taken place in a short amount of time, the idea that they would completely collapse was a foreign idea.  The newscasters didn’t know much at that point; but we knew something was happening.

By this point I was almost late to my class.  I didn’t really care about my class, but part of me wanted to interact with other people and see if they could comprehend this any better.  I quickly put on some clothes and ran out the door to my graphic design class.  The campus was abuzz.  There was a strange energy you could feel.  Apparently the college president had to break the news that the WTC and Pentagon had been attacked at that morning’s chapel, but as far as I knew many of those students hadn’t yet seen the footage.  I arrived at my classroom where of course everyone was talking about it.  I remember one guy saying “one tower has fallen” and I informed everyone that actually both towers were gone.   

Most teachers cancelled class immediately in light of the events.  However my teacher, Ms. Campbell, said despite what was going on, we needed to focus and do some work.  I remember being so mad at her and thinking she was insensitive.  I don’t know why, but I remember we went outside to take some pictures of each other with the class digital camera (still not commonplace back then) for a ‘self-portrait’ project we would be working on.  I know I sillily had the thought that I wish I had showered and put on something other than a t-shirt.  I remember being frustrated because everyone else was walking around campus and talking about what was going on while we seemed to be the only class actually meeting.  After about an hour Ms. Campbell realized we were all too distracted and she cancelled class.

I met some friends at the student center where a huge crowd had gathered around the big screen TVs in the student lounge.  The room had over 100 people in it but it was strangely silent.  No one knew what to think of it all.  The towers were gone, the Pentagon was hit, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania had been discovered. 

That year was Carson-Newman’s sesquicentennial (150th) celebration.  There events taking place through out the school year, but the afternoon and evening of September 11 was supposed to be the big community anniversary celebration.  I remember seeing the delivery man for the blow up jumpy games walk into the student center and find a school administrator asking if the event was still taking place and the administrator saying he didn’t think so.  It was cancelled as were classes for the rest of the day. 

I walked numbly back to my dorm room to drop off my stuff and found my roommate Amy there.  She was extremely worried because one of her best friends was a freshman at NYU and she hadn’t been able to reach him yet.  There wasn’t anything else to do so I went with my friend Charlotte to our friends Leah and Jill’s dorm room to watch it on TV.  We talked about the rumors we’d heard about, how other US cities were supposed to be targets (Atlanta had been mentioned by someone), and how crazy the whole thing was.  I remember Leah putting a tape in the VCR to start recording the news coverage and that was one of the first times I objectively thought that I was in fact witnessing a huge moment in history. 

The rest of the day went by in sort of a blur.  I talked to my parents who were in Texas for my Aunt’s funeral which had taken place the week prior.  I spoke with Stephen who described what was happening at Georgia Tech, and it sounded similar to what we were experiencing at Carson-Newman.  My roommate finally got in touch with her friend, thankfully he was alright.  A prayer vigil had been scheduled on campus for that evening after dinner.   

I remember walking with my friend Charlotte to the dining hall and stopping on the way and looking up into the sky.  It was such a strange feeling to know that at that moment, all across America there were absolutely no planes flying.  I doubt (hope) I’ll ever be able to look into the sky again and have that thought.

They days that followed were also a little surreal.  Everyday we learned a little more about what had happened, and heard more amazing and heartbreaking stories about victims and heroes.  Regular TV shows were replaced by all day news coverage, with the the images of the burning and falling towers playing over and over and over again.  Those images were almost memorizing, and you couldn’t get away from them.  Every other channel it seemed, the ones without news programs, had scrolling marquees and memorial ribbons stating their patriotism and regret for the tragic events.  New terms, names and places that I hadn’t heard before were suddenly talked about all the time: Ground Zero, Osama Bin Laden, Rudy Giuliani, FDNY, United 93, War on Terror, 9/11, and Shanksville PA, just to name a few.  Gone were the days of speedy airport security, thinking our country was impenetrable, and the date “September 11” being as insignificant and nondescript as any other.  

It’s been seven years and in some respects it seems like yesterday and in others it seems ages ago.  I loved the patriotism that erupted across the country after September 11, 2001.  It seemed every house and car had an American flag waving from it and the country truly united together.  I hate how a short seven years later we’ve lost the majority of that unity, and it seems that many aspects of 9/11 have become politicized and even distorted.  We’ve become callused to the events of that day and the emotions we felt. 

As I write this I’m sitting in a hotel room in Albany, Georgia watching MSNBC’s original news broadcast of 9/11.  Watching the unedited footage brings back those emotions I felt on that day.  It is still shocking, and heartbreaking, and confusing. 

I think its important to see these images and watch this footage from time to time to remember and relive the most recent turning point in American history, and to pay respect to the victims and their families who were personally affected.  We should not forget.

I know I won’t forget.

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