People who lived through JFK’s assassination say they remember where they were and what was going on the moment they heard the news. Given the greater magnitude of the tragedy the same has to be true for 9-11, I know it’s true for me.
Sometimes, I recall that day, and it feels like it was yesterday instead of 14 years ago. It wouldn’t be cliche to say it changed me. It did. I was 20 years old and still feeling as invincible as I did when I was a teenager. A decade earlier I watched as a child the Berlin Wall being torn apart (a monumental moment in my family because my father and his immediate family immigrated to Canada, and later California, from West Germany. My grandfather brought back a piece of that wall for us after his next visit, (his first to his reunified homeland). After that I remember watching on TV coverage of the end of Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a teenager I grew up in a decade of exuberance of that victory brought. I projected my youthful sense of invincibility onto America, and by extension to all of western civilization.
I never really understood how dangerous the world could be, even to a nation as strong as our was. I simply had no idea. Those illusions came crashing down with the World Trade Center, and it changed me.
To be honest, my story isn’t all that remarkable, but it’s mine.
On September 11, 2001 I was in college and living in my fraternity house. I shared a room with one of my fraternity brothers, and I didn’t have a phone or a cell phone yet (I got along without one for a lot longer than my peers), so I generally shared my roommate’s phone.
Sometime that morning around the 6 o’clock hour (I’m on the west coast…so it started at 5:45 AM for me), I can’t say for certain because I was half asleep, our phone rang. We let it go to the answering machine (as opposed to voicemail) because we were both still trying to sleep. The voice on the answering machine was another fraternity brother calling to tell us to turn on the news and that New York was being bombed.
I was so out of it that I literally ignored what normally should jolt anyone out of their slumber. I heard what was said, but I just wasn’t listening.
About an hour or so later my alarm set to get ready for class went off, and I woke up. Suddenly, what I half-heard about an hour earlier rushed into my head and had my full attention…mostly because I wasn’t sure it was even real.
A little bit of anxiety set in, and my first instinct was to go out to the living room and check the TV since something like that was sure to be on the news.
When I got to the living room three other brothers were standing around the television, eyes glued, with worried looks on their faces. My heart sunk.
I still didn’t know exactly what was happening, the message on my answering machine said New York had been bombed. Of course, I soon got the real story about the planes and the World Trade Center.
That clarification hit close to home, because one of my best friends from high school moved to the city a year earlier (from California) to go to Barnard College, and she had a job for the summer working for a company based in one of the towers. Her time there ended three weeks prior to the attack, but I would spend half the day wondering if she alive before hearing from her family she was fine.
(As a side note, the closest I would ever get to the World Trade center was hearing this friend describe it to me. She told me that if you stood in front of it and bent your neck back as far as it would go while looking up you still wouldn’t see the top, it was that tall. I wished I had a chance to experience that for myself.)
I had another good friend from high school who was attending NYU, she sent a mass email letting us all know she too was ok.
Then I heard the news about the other two planes, one of them hitting the Pentagon, and the other was targeted for the White House, and with that I spent much of the rest of the day in a sort of daze.
Due to concern of more potential attacks classes at my university were canceled shortly after I had arrived to class. So, I went to work at my part-time job, and then went home to my house, and in that time American flags were everywhere.
When I got home I found that instead of a few guys being huddled around the TV there was what seemed like the entire fraternity there and watching.
Except for maybe the election of Barack Obama (another national tragedy), I honestly can’t recall any other single day in my entire life where something had a grip on our collective attention the way this terrorist attack did.
Every year on this day I reflect on this unspeakable tragedy, and in doing so I often become overwhelmed with sadness. Naturally, our collective conscience will commemorate this day with less intensity with each passing year, but for me personally that hasn’t been the case.
Since I was a kid I wanted to be a comic book artist. I chose my college based solely on the fact that it had an Illustration major program. I LOVED that stuff. I loved superheroes and got into the stories so much I knew I wanted my job to be drawing them one day.
I was always interested in politics as well, but at that point it was more about the sport of arguing for the partisan Republican side as I was raised in a conservative family from a conservative town.
My interests began to shift on September 12, 2001. I went from being woefully unaware to truly caring about what was going on in the world.
Before I reached graduation day in 2004 my creative interests had gone from comic books to politics. The idea of being willing to risk and even sacrifice one’s own life to preserve and protect the lottery jackpot of a life we have in this country went from being some abstract notion read about in a history book to up close and personal. While I haven’t served this country in that capacity it was impossible for me to ignore the immutable truth that we are all responsible for maintaining and protecting this nation to the best of our ability.
While I don’t work in any professional capacity for the conservative or any other political movement, I’ve worked my tail off to use my strengths and talents to promote and fight for what I’ve believed to be right and just. I don’t know if it’s doing anything that makes an impact…but I do it because it doesn’t feel right to do nothing.
Fourteen years later I now have a much different life from that day. I’m married with two kids and a career that pays the bills while I spend what little free time I have throwing in my two cents from the back row of the peanut gallery. Now, the future my children will have weighs more on my mind as I proceed, but if that fact is point B, then the 9-11 attacks were point A.