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Remembering September 11 ~ 15 Years Later

September 11, 2016

Every year on September 11, I take time to consciously remember what happened on the day that changed America forever. Here is my account of that day, part of which I originally wrote on September 11, 2010.

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It seemed like any ordinary day.

Nothing was different. No phone calls to our condo. The alarm went off to the annoying buzzing sound that it did every morning (the only way that I’d get out of bed).

Bryan left the house before 6 a.m. since Tuesdays were his early-morning day to teach spin class at the campus gym.

I got into my car around 7:40 a.m. to drive myself to work at San Diego State University. I got in the car; started the ignition; and turned on NPR, just like any other day.

But it was not like any other day. Something was different. I could tell in an instant.

I knew something dreadful was happening the minute I heard the NPR reporter. I just started driving to work waiting for information.

The reporter started talking about smoke, airplanes, confusion, towers, the Pentagon.

What was I missing?

Then I heard two words that I never much heard before on NPR. But I would hear so many more times – “terrorist attack.”

“WHAT?! What is happening?!”

I was shouting out loud to the radio, in my car alone. I was starting to panic. I had no idea what was going on in the world at that moment. I was already on the freeway; so couldn’t turn back to home and turn on the television. I just drove to work; trying to get to my office as fast as possible.

As I was on the freeway, the announcer finally started to recount what happened to the World Trade Center and Pentagon that morning. I was in utter and complete shock. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even cry at the time. I just drove with my mouth hanging open.

I sprinted to my office, turned on my computer, and by that time, nobody was doing any work. All anyone could do is listen; and watch; and talk to each other in utter disbelief.

While we now have an exact timeline of what happened that morning, at the time we didn’t know what was fact or fiction; or what was happening where. It was all coming through in pieces. Americans all learned together that we were under attack. And it was so scary; probably the most frightening time of my life.

The campus received an order from the chancellor of the entire college system to shut down the university at noon that day. I don’t think anyone was really concerned for safety. It was more out of confusion and a general feeling of anxiety. It was probably for the best since I don’t think anyone would have done any work that day. I drove home and sat in front of the television watching CNN for hours. I was hoping to learn something, anything, as I’m sure the rest of the world did too. That’s when the tears began flowing, and felt like they never stopped.

Later that day, the name and image of Osama Bin Laden began appearing on the news. The only recognition I had of this name was a story I’d seen on 60 Minutes a few months before. But I didn’t pay much attention to that story because I thought – like many others – What could that man possibly have to do with me? Little did any of us know. …

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Those next few months – and years – were filled with a lot of fear. I didn’t go to High Holiday services that fall because I was so scared a terrorist attack would happen at the place I was going to worship. On the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002, I stayed home from work and planted myself in front of the television. Mostly in fear that an attack would occur again; and I needed to know the minute it happened.

It’s been 14 years since that day that changed America – and changed my life – forever. I still cry every time I see the images of the towers falling to the ground and I hear the horror in the voices and cries of the onlookers. My heart breaks when I read stories about the 9/11 families. I’m haunted every time I listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Grand Central Station, her beautifully-written homage to a September 11 worker sifting through the “holy dust” at Ground Zero. Tears fill my eyes when I hear Alan Jackson’s Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning? And who can forget the Saturday Night Live tribute that aired only a few weeks later, at at time when nobody knew if it was appropriate to laugh after such sorrow.

As horrible as a tragedy 9/11 was, I remember feeling closer to my country, my neighbors and the people around me. It was as if all those American flags that were on display brought us all together. Later that month, I went to the annual Harvest Festival (arts and crafts fair) and everyone was wearing red-white-blue and proudly displaying Americana items. Something was bonding all of us together. It was a feeling and sight I’d never witnessed before.

It’s sad that’s no longer the case. I fear that we – as a country – have let the memory of September 11 fade. The country is so divided today. Yet we need to our collective past and remember that tragic day. Because only in remembering will we never forget.

Where were you on September 11? How do you choose to remember the day?

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