I’ve never really written about my experience with 9/11. There are lots of reasons for it, but as time goes on, the biggest reason is because I was really a jerk. Know that I’m as judgmental about it as you’re going to be.
September of 2001 was during my first semester in college. I was under more stress than I’d ever been in. This was the first time I’d ever been exposed to anything where I couldn’t just absorb new material, where I couldn’t keep up with the torrent of information coming at me. I was dealing with it poorly. Fight or flight is what usually takes place for most people. But, for a few of us, there’s a third option. Freeze. And, I did. I did anything that kept me from thinking about classes – movies, games, books. Anything to withdraw from reality.
On Tuesdays I had Calculus recitation, a time to ask a graduate student any questions you may have had about what had been taught the previous day, to turn in homework, and to take tests. Buried in my own worry about how I was going to keep up, I barely noted people talking about crashing planes. There was a popular First Person Shooting game at the time called Counterstrike that has teams of terrorists vs. counter-terrorists. I honestly assumed people in my dorm were talking about the game when they were talking about a terrorist attack, though I wondered why it was suddenly such a popular topic.
I have a ticket from September 2nd. It’s from the World Trade Center (building 1, I believe). Georgia Tech played Syracuse that weekend. I was in the band, and as part of the trip we were encouraged to go visit Manhattan. The group I was in was torn between going to the top of the WTC or the Empire State Building. I pushed for and we went to the WTC – it was closer, the tickets were cheaper, and I’d visited the Empire State Building in a previous trip. It was an amazing view, and I wondered aloud how likely we were to rebuild NY if something disastrous happened. It’s an excellent port, and the bedrock underneath allows the skyscrapers to be so numerous. It’s just a great spot for a city. I had no idea I’d see a demonstration of the answer being “yes” for the exact building I was standing on.
As the day unfolded after the attacks, I was almost entirely self-absorbed in the results. I didn’t know anyone directly affected by it. It was just a kind of surreal. “You know that building you were standing on? Yeah, it’s not a building any more.” It was so far away, so unconnected from me that it didn’t mean anything. What mattered to me was that my weekend trip to Panama City was going to be moved from a perfect September weekend to a frigid November one. Everything just kept on for me. Classes went on. I continued to bury my head in the sand.
In retrospect, I’m disgusted at my lack of empathy. Life ended for 2,996 people, but for me, it was Tuesday. That doesn’t make me a dictator, but it does make thinking about it a sore subject. Remembering that day is remembering what it’s like to not care about the sufferings of others and that I really used to believe that it was okay to just pretend terrible consequences don’t happen. I don’t remember horror or disgust. I remember apathy, and I don’t want to.
And, yeah, I get that’s also selfish, which is why I’m writing this down. Today SHOULD be a day of remembrance for all the direct victims and those who died trying to save others, and I shouldn’t let my disapproval of who I was prevent me from honoring them. They deserve better, and this is me trying to give it to them.
Today we remember those who died because a few people thought they could achieve their goals with violence. I hope we’re always so resolute in responding to those who choose to use fear and the deaths of innocent people as weapons.
Thanks for reading.