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Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?

September 11, 2011

This post was originally posted on September 11, 2010. Since it is the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, I felt I should again publish my recollection of that day – and how it has affected me ten years later – in order to keep the memory of that day alive.

*****

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. Got in the car; started the ignition; and turned on NPR, just like any other day.

But something was different. I could tell in an instant. This was not any other day.

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 sadly, I would hear so many, 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 around 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. Hoping to learn something, 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 sadly, 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…

***********

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 ten 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 widows and 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. And tears fill my eyes when I hear Alan Jackson’s Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?

I have only flown twice since September 11, 2001. The first trip was to Hawaii, where I rationalized that terrorists probably wouldn’t attack a plane going from California to Hawaii in the late afternoon. The second flight was to Washington, D.C. I had to take Xanax for that trip and I never really caught my breath until the plane landed safely in San Diego. I’ve had a fear of flying my entire life. But it has gotten worse since 9/11. Even today (and especially now that I have a child), the fear of flying has actually prevented me from traveling by air.

Now I only let NPR wake me in the morning. For the longest time, I’d wake with a slight feeling of dread, wondering what in the world I might wake up to that day.

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. Yet now more than ever, we need to remember that tragic day in order to stay strong and make sure it doesn’t happen again. We need to teach our children about our collective past. We need to become educated about the world around us again.

So today – on this decade anniversary of September 11, 2001 – I will display with pride the American flag outside my house. I will wear my Americana shirt. And as much as it will bring me sadness, I will watch those images on the news and listen to that Mary Chapin Carpenter song. I will remember that day in our nation’s history. And I will weep.

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?

Photo: Google Images

34 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2011 3:04 am

    Leah, brought tears to my eyes this morning…. thinking I was at a client meeting — my last technical writing project ever — that morning.

    Time froze, and I raced home the 20 minute drive to be in the same town as my children. It was a bright and sunny day and I just wanted to pick them up from school and hold them close but of course I didn’t. They and I were safe. Instead, I just waited, as we all did. Being on the east coast, I knew quite a few people who had connections to and lost people in the attacks. My daughter’s teacher lost contact (for a day) with her college-age daughter living blocks from the Trade Center. It was pretty terrifying to explain to talk to my 9 year old when I didn’t understand myself. I agree with you — I’ve never felt quite safe again. But like you, it brought neighbors together — one older neighbor who always seemed leery of me, blew me a kiss that day as she drove by and we’ve now become good friends. But what a high price. And it is both enlightening and hard to listen to my young adult children talking about growing up in a post-9/11 world–knowing this is their world forever.

    And honestly, I’m dreading today…. my children in Boston and Philly, many loved ones in NYC — the east coast fragily waiting… for what? We just don’t know. I will breathe a sigh of relief when this day is over… (Thank you for giving me a chance to write this…. xo Julia)

    • September 12, 2011 10:21 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Julia! I can’t imagine being so close to it all as you and many others were. And like you, I’ve never quite felt safe again. Glad yesterday was a solemn day of reflection and nothing else.

  2. September 11, 2011 5:34 am

    Beautifully expressed Leah!

    • September 12, 2011 10:21 pm

      Thanks, Susan. I always appreciate you reading.

  3. September 11, 2011 6:28 am

    I was home on that September day, the boys were at school and hubbs was just leaving for an appointment. We listened, with our mouths agape, to reports of a plane having hit the WTC. Having flown in and out of LaGuardia many times, and having been “beneath” the towers, we both had talked about how weird it was that a plane could be so close to NYC and nothing had ever happened. And then we saw the 2nd plane and knew this was no accident and that our lives had changed forever.

    I love September but have never been able to enjoy a crisp blue sky quite the same since, MJ

    • September 12, 2011 10:22 pm

      Thanks for sharing, MJ! You are so right that September will never be the same again.

  4. September 11, 2011 7:13 am

    I dropped Max to daycare and was driving to work listening to my radio and then the program stopped and everything went silent and in the few minutes the announcer said the small plane hit one of the towers. 5 minutes later I was at work and ask if anyone heard anything, no one did, then we turned tv on…..
    It was our 10 anniversary living in America and I knew that life as we knew and love will never be the same again. For the first few years after 9/11 If my husband and I needed to fly we would take separate planes. It’s hard to believe that 10 years past by since that horrific day. As I write this I’m watching the 9/11 remembrance and I can’t stop crying…….

    • September 12, 2011 10:24 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Ariana! Wow, that is crazy that was your 10-year anniversary of being here. Sad that had to happen at the time. It was truly sad that the country could change in an instant. My parents used to fly separate planes too, especially when we were little.

  5. September 11, 2011 7:41 am

    I was in college at the time. As I picked up my morning coffee, the conspiracist-theory-type barista told me that a plane had been flown into the Pentagon. I dismissed this out of hand as the words of a crank.

    However, as I got onto campus, I realized something was seriously amiss. I headed straight to the Student Union building, with its wide-screen television. I stood next to the Fine Arts division head and we watched in shock as the events unfolded. I have a vague memory of class being cancelled, or at being mad at teacher who didn’t cancel. Not sure what the truth is there.

    I think my friends and I were too young and immature to understand the significance of what the day’s events meant for our country. We were all still pretty radically-minded at the time. After a decade, though, I listen to the beautiful memorials which have been playing on the radio, and my eyes are constantly welling with tears. I think that now, since I’m a wife and mother, the tragedy has taken on an entirely more personal note.

    • September 12, 2011 10:26 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Rivki! It did feel quite surreal, didn’t it? And as sad as I felt 10 years ago, I can only imagine it would have been so much harder being a mother now. I saw a photo that was on CNN.com of a father kneeling down next to his son’s name on the memorial. It was a beautiful photo and brought tears to my eyes.

  6. September 11, 2011 8:00 am

    I also found out about it on my morning commute. I was only in the car for a minute when they broke in with news that the first plane had hit the World Trade Center. By the time I got to my destination — an elementary school for a work event — the first tower had started to fall. We kept our event at the school as normal because we didn’t want to alarm the kids, but by the time I got out of there, it was a different world. I don’t remember nearly as much as I should. Thanks for your reflection.

    • September 12, 2011 10:27 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Caryn. I read your post yesterday and really liked it. I love how you focused on your morning commute and how you wondered if others were listening to the same things and feeling as you were too. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

  7. September 11, 2011 8:50 am

    I was at work at a small office in Dallas only a mile from my house. I was filing when I heard a note of panic in the voices down the hall. Soon, we were all standing in a conference room around the television watching reports of what was happening.

    I was glad to be able to go home a noon and grieve privately, but as soon as I got there, I wished I wasn’t alone. It was too much to take by myself. I called my husband at work downtown and then started trying to get in touch with my friends in New York and Washington D.C. I was so relieved when I learned they were okay.

    When I look back, I realize that I’m a much more anxious person now than I was ten years ago. The world feels like a fragile and dangerous place now. I have to work hard to relax and enjoy the life I’m lucky to have.

    Leah, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for inviting us to share our experiences.

    • September 12, 2011 10:35 pm

      Shary, thank you for sharing your story. I love how you wrote you are working hard to relax and enjoy the life you have. I feel the same way and agree that I have been increasingly anxious since that day. I don’t recall ever feeling the same feelings of uncertainty and fear as I have since that day.

  8. September 11, 2011 10:29 am

    Leah, thank you so much for this wonderful post. I am reading all the 9-11 blogs and commentaries on FB this morning and will soon go turn on the t.v. to watch the news stories. It has been good to connect with others this way, even if it is a virtual connection. We are all united through this event. I didn’t think the 10 year anniversary would affect me the way it has. I too will never see or feel the month of Sept. quite the same again.

    • September 12, 2011 10:36 pm

      Thank you, Michael Ann, for your kind words. I hate to use the word “enjoy,” but I have enjoyed remembering 9/11 this year because of reading everyone’s blogs and stories about that day. It does make the world seem smaller and us less alone.

  9. September 11, 2011 12:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing this poignant post here Leah. I feel like everytime we ‘bare our hearts on our sleeves’ to each other we get to know one another better, get to understand just a little more of what makes the other tick. We understand their fears, their values, their motivation as a writer. Thank you again for this post. Hugs, Elizabeth.

    • September 12, 2011 10:37 pm

      Thank you, Elizabeth. I was just commenting that it’s been really nice to read each others stories and hear how that day affected everyone. It’s a nice way of bringing us closer.

  10. September 11, 2011 1:15 pm

    I’ve had such a hard time watching the tributes and recountings of that day … I’ve had to leave the room, completely blathering and teary-eyes many times today. I remember my mom calling me in AZ from PA and telling me to turn on the news. Because of her alerting us, we saw the second plane fly into the second tower… and we, like so many others, scratched our heads, rubbed our eyes: ‘did that really just happen?’ Such a tragic event, and maybe even more tragic the way we’ve gone back to our old, selfish, shut-in ways… America has a short, short memory for most things, I think.

    • September 12, 2011 10:39 pm

      Exactly, Melissa, about how we’ve gone back to our old ways so fast. Another blogger noted that during that time, everyone rallied behind the president to help get us through that time. Yet it’s so sad now that the only time we rallied together with a president (any president for that matter) was during such tragedy. Why can’t we all be happier and harmonious during times of peace. That is the true test, isn’t it?

  11. September 11, 2011 5:47 pm

    Leah, that was a beautiful post! I was at home and a friend called. My husband and I stood in front of the television – we couldn’t even sit down….

    I agree with you….we can NEVER forget! We must always remain vigilant and ready.

    • September 12, 2011 10:39 pm

      Thank, Ann. And thanks for sharing your recollection. Yes, never forget! It’s not a fun subject, but we have to keep the memory alive. Otherwise we’re just as guilty if it happens again.

  12. September 11, 2011 7:08 pm

    Hi,
    I’d been wondering how to deal with this. I was sitting in my classroom, beginning my lesson with 8th graders. We lost a neighbor, with 3 kids under 8. I can’t being to describe what it was like to live in the shadow (commuting distance to NYC) of the attacks, the aftermath, and the impact on everyone’s lives – from the personal to the impersonal – heightened security, etc. I’d toyed with writing about it myself and touched on 9/ 11 in 2 recent posts. The family, who moved from NJ to Ohio, I think wants to move on.
    A good book that I gave them and the eldest child (7 years old!) read from at her dad’s funeral was Georgia Heard’s “This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort.”

    • September 12, 2011 10:41 pm

      Wow, thanks for sharing. I can’t imagine being so close to the attacks. Yet so many were, like yourself. You lost people you knew. It takes the tragedy to an even deeper level than what I can fathom. Thanks for the book recommendation too. I will check it out.

  13. September 12, 2011 10:10 am

    I was in eighth grade computer class when our school received the news. I remember how my favorite teacher, a man who had flown Blackhawks in Desert Storm, stood in front of all of us and led us in a prayer whose fervency I will never forget. I sat there trembling, for I feared that my life — all of our lives — would never be the same. In a way, they weren’t.

    • September 12, 2011 10:42 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Jolina. What a powerful moment that must have been — being led in prayer by your teacher, a former military member. Imagine what he must have been thinking at that moment too.

  14. September 13, 2011 6:05 am

    Such touching words, Leah. I was at a meeting at elementary school and rushed home to call my mother. We watched TV in horror. I think our country became closer as a family that day.

    • September 13, 2011 8:44 pm

      Thank you! I agree our country became closer that day. It’s too bad we haven’t continued that mentality though.

  15. September 13, 2011 11:22 am

    Such a horrific day.

    I had just spent the weekend in New York City when it happened. So sad.

    • September 13, 2011 8:45 pm

      Wow, that must have been scary having just been in NYC. It is still so sad to this day.

  16. September 13, 2011 5:07 pm

    I had just gotten to school in San Antonio and was headed for my first class of the day. At that time we didn’t know exactly what had happened, but we knew planes had hit the World Trade Center. I wanted so much to turn the TV on in my classroom, but the principal wouldn’t let us because she felt that parents might want to sit down with their children and talk about what was happening. Actually, I think that was the word from Central Office: No TV’s on in the classrooms. It was maddening.

    • September 13, 2011 8:46 pm

      Although I can understand the concerns of the principal, I can see how that must have been really hard not to see what was going on. Such a scary time!

Trackbacks

  1. What Does That Song Mean?: Explaining 9/11 to Children « Leah's Thoughts
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