Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I was away celebrating a friend's birthday this weekend so I didn't get to post my remembrance of 9/11. I guess it is better late than never...

On September 11. 2001, I had just started my junior year of college at Western Maryland College (it was still WMC at that point, anyway). I was living in McDaniel Hall with my best friend and roommate Jeanette. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we had very similar schedules, which included physics 101 with Dr. Jeff Marx. Since our class was not until 10:20 AM, we started our mornings with breakfast together in the college dining hall, affectionately referred to as GLAR. As we did most mornings, we rolled out of bed at 9 AM and stumbled across campus and through the student center to the dining hall. On 9/11, as we passed the reception desk, the TV was tuned to the morning news, as always. However, unlike most mornings, there was a crowd of students watching the news that day. There was such a crowd that we decided to stop and see what the fuss was all about. When we stopped, we heard the story of an accidental helicopter strike at the pentagon. The reporter claimed that the helicopter missed its approach to the landing pad at the pentagon and accidentally struck the building. We accepted this initial report and, even though it seemed to be a bad accident, we went on our way to breakfast. After all, how much damage could a helicopter do to a building?

At this point in the day, I don't think many people realized what was going on, so breakfast was fairly normal. It was only when we started walking back to our dorm room to get ready for class that we realized this was not an accident and nothing was okay. We saw the burning world trade center buildings on TV (at this point, both buildings had been struck) and quickly realized there was a huge problem facing our nation. We ran back to our dorm (literally, ran) and turned both of our TVs to different news reports, trying to get as much information as we could from as many different sources we could find. Since classes had not been canceled, we decided to continue our morning as normal. Right before we left for class, the first tower collapsed. We were stunned. It looked like we were watching a movie and not a real life report. It was so hard to believe that we didn't quite realize that there were people in those buildings...

While walking to class, we passed people who we knew but were in a state of shock and not quite sure what to say to each other. Class that morning is something that I will never forget. We took our normal seats in the second row, next to the window. I can still see the classroom, just as vividly as if it were yesterday. Our professor, Dr Marx, came in with red eyes and tears streaming down his face. It seemed like it took forever for him to gain his composure. When he did, the first words out of his mouth were "wars were started over far less than this"... He spoke about how our lives were about to change forever and how we would never be the same again. I think he went on to teach that day, although the lesson is far gone from memory. After class, we received notice that classes were canceled for the rest of the day and, as we would later find out, for the rest of the week.

We returned back to the dorm room to learn of the rest of the devastation. It was all too much. It was about this time that we realized that Jeanette's dad, who was a federal government employee based in Houston that traveled to DC for business, was actually in DC that day. She couldn't reach him via his cell phone. The next 15 minutes were probably the scariest for both of us that day. We both called, emailed and messaged, just about anyone we could think of to get in touch with her dad. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Jeanette reached her dad's secretary in Houston, who told her that her dad was not at the pentagon, nor on a plane that day. He was safe. We would later hear from him, and learn that while DC was in shock, her dad was alive and well and ready to return home to his family.

After those few hours, the rest of the week becomes a blur. I know I went to many memorial services. Several students lost family members in the towers, and it was horrible to think of what they are going through. We watched the towers fall over and over that week, as there was nothing else on TV but news reports trying to come to grips with the tragedy. I remember there were no late night TV shows. The first night David Letterman came back on air, we watched. And for once, the show had a serious tone. How do you come back on air and laugh when NY is still reeling? Eventually, lives returned to normal but, as Dr Marx pointed out, it would never be the same.

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