Today is the fifth anniversary of the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville, PA tragedies. Living in New York, it would be impossible to forget, but I wouldn't even if I didn't. I remember the day so very vividly. It was a Tuesday morning and I had left New York just the day before excited because I had decided to follow my heart...leave my job and move to the city. That Tuesday morning I got up and dressed. I remember hearing about the first plane on the Today show. I sometimes leave the television on when I go out. So as I locked the door, it seemed it wasn't clear what was going on...neither Katie Couric or Matt Lauer seemed to know what was going on. One of them speculated it must have been a helicopter or some other small aircraft.
When I got to campus, I tuned my little portable television as best I could. My office was in the center of a cinderblock building and I had the snowiest picture ever. But there was no mistaking what I saw...A full-size aircraft flying right into the World Trade Center. Shock cannot adequately describe what I felt. Was this the start of some full-fledged attack on the country? What was going on? Immediately I thought of my friend Janella and then others who lived and worked in New York. Were they near the WTC? On the subway? The street? I got up and walked across the hall to my colleague's office. It was weird that he was there because, well, he was never there. But that morning he was. And I felt strange saying the words "An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center..." because it felt as if I could be saying anything ridiculous like "hell is freezing over." Like everybody else in this country, I was always taught how improbable it was that the United States would ever suffer hostile attack. Surrounded by 'friendly nations,' exercising military and economic superiority around the globe. Pearl Harbor notwithstanding, the American mainland was supposed to be impervious. I felt exposed and naive and scared.
By that time, I had brought my television to my colleague's office. He had a window and I hoped for better reception. We watched silently. And then they collapsed one after another...He, much older than I, went pale and looked absolutely stricken. My sentient years are post-Vietnam. Besides the techinicolor of the Gulf War, military conflicts were mostly threats in my lifetime that never actually materialized. But his face belied an experience I did not want...I noticed the time. My students...I went down to my classroom. Students were filing in, most wholly unaware of what was happening. But, chillingly, a few walked in with a look I did not recognize. As they took their seats, I told them what I had seen. I couldn't teach class. I told them they were welcome to stay but that I was too worried about my friends in New York to present that morning. One of my students raised her hand, she understood she said...she was in the reserves and figured she should probably check in. I didn't understand at first, but sure enough, as the semester continued many of my students in that class and others began to tell me that they were worried about their military status, about their jobs, about their children...
My thoughts of moving to New York vanished. I was so shaken. The New York I had been in the day before was no more...By the time I drove back to my apartment, it felt like hell had broken loose. Planes were grounded and the lines were impossible. I could not get through to New York at all. Finally, I reached Janella...she was safe at her school. She was worried about me. We started thinking of other people to call. She named people that worked in the WTC or near it. I spent the rest of the morning trying to call them. I saw the news about the Pentagon and then the crash in PA. What was going on? What was going on?
My heart is heavy with condolences for everyone who lost a loved one five years ago. To me, this day will always remind me how tenuous life is, how quickly everything we know can be ripped away. But it also challenges me to be faithful, to be hopeful, and to be steadfast. For all those same reasons we must move forward each day determined to make our own destiny, our own happiness, our own meaning. Whether we are lost or whether we survive...for certain life endures. If we are still here, we still have an opportunity to make a difference for someone else and for ourselves.