Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th -- the seven year itch

Today is the seven year anniversary of September 11th, 2001, the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

When I went to class today, we discussed our memories of that day. Like the JFK Assassination or the attack on Pearl Harbor for previous generations, almost everyone who has lived through that day can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attacks.

I remember that I was a sixth-grader, taking the Indiana Standardized Test for Educational Progress, as mandated by President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" policy.

I was taking a reading comprehension test for ISTEP, when my teacher received a cell phone call. I looked up to her at the front desk, listening to the conversation.

"Hello? What's happening?

Oh my God!"

She grabbed the remote control, and ran over and turned on the television.

"What's going on?" we asked her.

"There's been an attack on the World Trade Center" she informed us.

We sat, immobilized, staring at the smoldering ruins of the buildings we could see on the television, over a thousand miles away.

I still had to take that stupid test. Mindlessly, filling in bubbles, watching America under attack before my eyes. It was a surreal experience.

We all joked by the end of the day that the terrorists weren't going to attack our small town. We were laughing because that was the only way we could make any sense of it.

It was too impossible to believe.

I remember eating in our cafeteria, sitting on the hard wooden benches, contemplating what was happening with people who wouldn't give me the time of day any other day of the year. But that day, we were all mystified by the attacks and bewildered by what was happening, together.

That afternoon, my 6th grade teacher pulled down her giant map of the world, and showed us her conspiracy theory. She pointed to countries that she said didn't like America, and explained her belief that Yasser Arafat, Omar Kadaffi, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden had simultaneously coordinated to bring devastation to the United States.

All of the school's activities were canceled. I came home on the bus, and saw my mother standing in the garage. She never came home that early. Of course, my dad was still at work. It could be the freaking apocalypse and his employer would still make him come into the office.

It was a Tuesday. The next evening, I went to confirmation at my church. My pastor led us in silent prayer as we lit candles to remember the victims. I remember when she prayed for the terrorists who did this as well as the victims who suffered in the attacks. She drew some criticism for that at our church, but I thought it was the right thing to do.

Soon after the attacks, anti-Muslim prejudice spread throughout the country. My church hosted a leader from the local mosque to talk to us about Islam. It was my first real encounter with Islam, though now some of my closer friends are Muslim.

I remember the second anniversary of the attacks; that day stands out in my memory just as clearly as the day of the attacks itself. September 11th, 2003.

I was in eighth grade. Every day, we would start the day with announcements. Our principal called for a moment of reflection to honor the victims of the attacks. While we were supposed to remember the victims, a country song called something like "Never Forget" was playing over the intercom. I suddenly felt a surge of emotion.

The song referenced that America must never give up the fight, but the fight I felt it was referencing was the war in Iraq, which I was strongly against, and that I was strongly convinced had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. I was deeply offended by the playing of this song, and the connection it made between the victims of 9/11 and the misadventure in Iraq. I was very angry. On the day of 9/11, I felt a sense of surrealism, as if it wasn't actually happening to me, which was in part true, because I was so physically far away from the center of attacks, and emotionally far away because I was a child and so naive. But on 9/11/03, I was genuinely angered. I was personally offended. These people at MY school were playing this song that offended MY point of view. I know no one died from that song, but I am telling you this because I feel it is an interesting anecdote about how people view events in their lives, and how they make emotional connections to those events.


swbarker said...

Just thought I might share my memories...

I was in sixth grade as well, and as it was early in the day, I was in music class. The teacher turned on the TV to put in the Music Man, and what we saw were pictures of the twin towers, burning. She just left it on for a few moments, staring. Everybody was whispering, trying to figure out what happened. Of course, it was crazy stuff, like a printer exploded, or it was a promotional stunt for some movie or tv series. After a few minutes she put in the Music Man, and the class watched it. I remember that though I sat there and watched the movie, I can't remember a thing about it. My mind was in New York, trying to figure out what happened to these buildings I had never heard about. Why my teacher looked so concerned. After all, it couldn't be too bad, right?

Over three thousand people died that day. Seven years later, and it still saddens me to see pictures of it, to hear the heroic and tragic stories they tell in the media. I love this country. I love the American flag. I love the common people who work to keep us free and alive. Those men and women in the service, I love them. Is that because of September 11th, 2001? I don't know, maybe. But I will never take this country and our freedoms for granted.
(Sorry for the rant, but I feel strongly about this.)

Teleprompter said...

There's no need to apologize!

Thank you for sharing your story.

Discussion is highly encouraged; I'm almost begging those of you who read this to comment on it.

I want to facilitate discussions of points of view other than my own, so that this blog can be something more than a mere collection of posts.

I find it interesting how many of us were lied to about what was happening as it was happening. For many of us, that will remain a strong impression of the event.

Anonymous said...

I remember just being so shocked that something like this could happen in our country -- and I remember how the people of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang God Bless America. They did not sing God Bless the Red States or God Bless the Blue States. Our leaders were so united -- what has happened to our country? Why is there so much vitriole?

I live in a small town -- and one of my most shocking memories is seeing F16s -- three of them -- fly above the highway near my home. The reality of what the rest of the world knows more frequently was happening in my small town.

I am sad that seven years later, OBL is still hiding in his caves or wherever a six foot four man on dialysis can hide -- and that we have taken our eyes off the ball.

You-Know-Who said...

I was in second grade and my teacher got a cell phone call from her dad who worked at the Pentagon. He said there was an attack and etc. I don't remember much of that day, but there didn't seem to be a widespread teacher panic that day. School went on normally and I didn't care much for it (note, I was in 2nd grade so don't go Fox News on me.

But I do distinctly remember that a couple of days after my friend joked that he was going to join the army and catch some terrorists.