Remembering 9/11

A lot has happened in the ten years since terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers. I’ll leave others to ruminate on the long-term changes in society. This is, after all, my blog. I’m going to be selfish and share with you two of the ways I process what happened on that day.

Part I It could have been me.  I used to live in New Jersey. I worked in the purchasing and shipping department of a Fortune 500 company. Because we dealt with hazardous materials, my company paid for me to get certain certifications as part of my job training. I did all my course work at the World Trade Center Institute. On that awful day, other students sat in the same chair I did, but instead of watching boats in the harbor, they watched a plane crash into the building they occupied. Today, I still wonder how they made sense of the inconceivable.  Did they rush down the stairs or for elevators immediately or wait until the true terror of fire and collapsing buildings pressed upon them? Did they make it out alive? Did their teachers? Did my teachers? How did their worlds change when mine continued more or less as it had before?

Part II The Lost.

September 11, 2001 was supposed to by my first day of Graduate school at the Ohio State University. One week later classes began as scheduled but with a notably subdued atmosphere. Students sat nervously in the classrooms, no-one talking about crazy things they did over the summer because it all seemed too trivial.  I faced my first class, a discussion section with 35 students, men and women. I ended class early, then as instructed, asked those students in ROTC, the reserves or the National Guard to stay behind. Three young men did. As I explained the quickly drafted policies regarding what would happen in the unlikely event they were called to service, I saw a range of emotions in their expressions, anger, bravery and a look I’d never seen on anyone before. The fear of dying.

They were good young men, hard workers and leaders in the classroom. One, an Ohio born Muslim-American regularly came to office hours both that quarter and the following when he was once again in my class.  Over time, I became if not a friend exactly, a trusted person in his life.  We talked of his past and his future. He wanted to be a teacher.

The following year, he showed up in my office hours again one day. He’d been called up.

Two years later, as I took a rare chance to indulge in the morning news before my daughter awoke, I learned his unit took heavy casualties. I don’t remember if it was in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I remember spending the next few days hoping against hope that he was okay. He wasn’t.

When I consider all that was lost on 9/11 and in the subsequent decade, his is the face I see. We lost his dreams, his work ethic, his curious mind and humble demeanor. I try not to think about what was lost too much. It always makes me cry.