Where were you when the Towers fell? It’s one of those iconic yet tragic questions in American history right up there with “Where were you when you heard that JFK was shot?” or “…when the Challenger exploded?”
For me, being based out here in Hawai’i, I was fast asleep when the Towers fell. The morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 for us started with a phone call at about 5am in the morning from my father-in-law (at the time, my girlfriend’s father) waking us up telling us to turn the TV on because terrorists had attacked NYC and the Pentagon and the Twin Towers had fallen. We got up, flipped on the TV and stood STUNNED at what we were seeing on TV. It was just SHOCKING. We watched the news trying to comprehend just what exactly was happening. Eventually, I got up, got dressed and, bewildered, I went in to work while Shell went off to class.
The work day went by in a daze for me. I had one meeting scheduled that day with our school newspaper editor to discuss starting a new column featuring our International students and activities. Aside from that, I think we all stumbled through that day. TVs were rolled and plugged in and turned on in the tutoring center so we could all keep up with the news. The most shocking thing to me (aside from the attacks of course) in my recollection? One of our students nonchalantly remarked, “Ho lady, relax!” while watching the TV as a woman screamed and ran for her life as the Towers fell behind her and the smoke cloud engulfed the streets of NYC behind and all around her. Our student nonchalantly turned away from the TV and went about her business like it was no big deal. Lady, relax? Really?
Not feeling well I left work early that day. I just remember getting home and just tuning in to the non-stop coverage of 9/11 that night and reading up on the news reports and blog posts (yup, there were blogs back then!) from NYC bloggers checking in to make sure they were ok. My favorite was Partygirl’s. I think “dazed and confused” was probably the best way I could describe life in the days of 9/11 — for me personally at least. My concerns I was dealing with at the time seemed (and were) so trivial compared to the amazing amount of stuff the folks in NYC were going through. I remember watching in pure heartbreak all the family members on TV in the streets of NYC holding pictures of their missing loved ones pleading with the viewers for any information on their whereabouts. Sadly, I suspect the happy reunions were few and far between…
What was I doing at that time in my life? I was working full-time in the International Affairs office at HCC and I was going to school in the evenings at HPU working on my MSIS degree (it was my first semester in grad school). Not feeling well the next day I remember missing my Quantitive Methods class and remaking to Profesor Kros about how insignificant my little flu seemed compared to everything else going on.
Enough about me though…
Each year a 9/11 remembrance ceremony is held in NYC and each year, without fail, I’ve watched the ceremony on TV on either Fox News or CNN. Each year I am moved and amazed at the tributes folks make to their loved ones who were lost that day. This year’s ceremony, which I am watching now as I write this, is especially moving. The new 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero is just breathtaking with the pools of water in the footprints of the old buildings and the names of the deceased engraved in stone. It’s just powerful watching the survivors touch the names of their loved ones on the walls. It’s equally emotional to see some of the speakers, children of the deceased, do tributes to their mothers and fathers. Some of these kids have grown up on TV (or sorts) having done tributes in previous remembrance ceremonies. I am moved.
10 years. It’s hard to imagine how much the world has changed since 9/11 happened. Tomorrow HCC will be holding a 10-year commemoration ceremony for 9/11. I think about our freshmen class just entering college now and how they were all of 8 years old when 9/11 happened. I wonder if these students have any real tangible recollections about how the world was before 9/11?
How has our world changed in my estimation? I remember being able to both escort and meet Shell to and at her airport gate every time she’d go home to visit her parents. I remember airport security having very simple metal detectors and how you could get through it fairly quickly if you either had to travel or meet someone at the airport or see someone off. No such luck now. All meetings are done strictly at check-in or at baggage. No such thing as meeting or seeing someone off at their gate! I am curious if some of the younger folks even knew you could go to the gates to see folks.
I remember a whole generation of our young people going off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Working with college students in the immediate Post-9/11 years I saw and observed first-hand students breaking down as their boyfriends, girlfriends, brothers, sisters and friends got deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. I saw it first-hand myself as many of my friends got deployed. Some of these folks didn’t come back. With each happy reunion or solemn funeral and remembrance all I know is that a whole generation of young folks have gone off to fight and subject themselves to the horrors of war. Are we better off for having done that fight? I think the jury is out on that one personally. Yes, Hussein and Bin Laden are dead and gone (it took long enough in the case of Bin Laden) and the world probably is better off for it. Are we safer today then we were before that fateful Tuesday in September of 2001? That’s hard to say. All I know is my friends who went off to fight and made it back aren’t the same people I remember before they went off. I also know that our classrooms are full of vets with a ton of issues that need to be worked through.
How are we as a society in America 10 years after 9/11? I think we’re definitely a more “conscious” society. I won’t say, “better” because we still squabble over the same things as before. I think “conscious” is a better, more accurate, description. I think we’re more neighborly now then we were pre-9/11 (at least with folks we share commonalities with). Perhaps it’s the advances in technology that has helped us to bond more. I don’t recall people reaching out to one another pre-9/11 then as we do now. Or maybe I just wasn’t as observant pre-9/11. I think we are more conscious of our everyday heroes who put their lives on the line for us everyday: our men and women in the Armed Forces, our first responders and emergency workers. Every time I travel it’s always great to see the amount of respect our military folks are given (early boarding, standing ovations, etc, etc). That’s something I definitely don’t recall prior to 9/11. First responders and emergency workers? I don’t recall them ever getting any major respect from society as a collective prior to 9/11. Maybe they did and again, I just wasn’t as observant. Regardless though, I think people as a whole have more appreciation and respect for these people who put their lives on the line for us everyday now then they did pre-9/11.
And for me, that’s what I think is probably the greatest lesson we can take from 9/11. 9/11 occurred because people allowed pure evil, pure hatred to overtake them, cloud their better judgment, and strike out at innocent people all in the name of jihad, a corruption of a religion that preaches peace at its core. What can we do as everyday people, as a society to combat pure evil? Demonstrate and act out of love. We can help our friends and neighbors in need. We can show honor and respect to everyone we meet as we all are deserving of love and respect. Always pay it forward. The best way to fight hatred and evil is to give and share love.
To all our men and women who serve, be it in the military or as first responders: thank you.
To all those who laid down their lives in the line of duty: thank you.
To all those we’ve lost whether in the original attacks or in the fighting since: rest in peace.
9/11/01 — We’ll always remember.