What struck me most in the days after September 11, 2001 was the empty sky. I wrote this on September 12.
The sky my grandmother saw
before the War to End All Wars
before her war, one hundred years ago,
was empty but for cloud rain bird wind leaf snow
The sky my grandmother saw
Had no people sailing in metal boxes
until a handful of adventurers
and a battalion of fighters
and other pioneers and fools filled the cloudy rainy windy sky
until my sky one hundred years on was so full of planes I never saw them.
The sky my grandmother saw came back
after four planes fell
on a building on a building on a building on a field
and for four days all of the planes that I never saw
In the sky my grandmother saw
there aren’t any people.
A two-dimensional world—
breadth and width without height
What struck me most in the days after 9/11 were the American flags that I saw everywhere. A sense of patriotism was palatable in the air and I really appreciated it. When I was young I did a patriotism project in school (while living in Colombia, South America) and I remember distinctly listing all the reason and drawing pictures about why I loved the United States so much. I think I had a different view of it than most kids did since I was spending three out of every four years living in a very dangerous third world country. I always felt as a kid that most Americans didn’t appreciate the wonderful country that they lived in, and I still kind of feel that way now. That’s probably why the deep sense of patriotism and pride in our country was what I noticed most after 9/11. Sadly I think many people have lost that once again. There are only a few of us that still fly flags here on my street.
Ten years ago I was a senior in high school, just beginning my final year of school before college. I know, I’m kind of dating myself here and I don’t mean to pull the “young” card, but it’s amazing to me how surreal September eleventh was to me.
The first plane hit the trade center while I was in the main office of the high school. I was filing paperwork for the art department (as a student assistant) and suddenly there were administrators running to televisions. They crowded the little pixel-y box in the assistant principal’s office, huddled together and crying on each other’s shoulders. I was ushered away quickly by the, normally composed and harsh, mascara streaked assistant principal while she shook her head, saying they weren’t supposed to let students know anything until they had an emergency administrative meeting.
As I walked back to the art classrooms (where I had somehow managed to secure 5 of my 6 hours of senior classes) there was a call over the loudspeaker “Mister Ferris has lost his yellow folder, if anyone has found it, please return it as soon as possible to the office.”
By the time I had made it back across the school to the art rooms there was another announcement. “Correction: Mister Ferris’s folder is red. If anyone has seen a red folder, please return it to the office.”I can only imagine this is when the second plane hit. This was when we went into lockdown. We were stuck in our classrooms for nearly three hours.
My art teacher had planning hour that hour, and because I was her assistant we were usually the ones in the art rooms. When I made it to the classroom I found her fiddling with wires on the back of the school-issued classroom television. A fuzzy image came up on the screen and I remember the feeling of numbness as I realized what was happening. She was crying quietly, as was the shop teacher who had dashed in through the door when he hear the television was on. He was a hardened older man who rarely said anything to anyone but his shop students. My art teacher turned to me and said “This is Your Kennedy Assassination. You will remember this moment for the rest of your life. “
As a high school student in the days following 9/11, I watched the school become a ghost town. I grew up in a city adjacent to Dearborn, Michigan, and people were instantly made afraid of the Arabic neighbors they had previously been more or less accepting of. Parents were pulling kids out of school, and we had less than 20% of the student population show up the day after. I was one of those students, and it wasn’t fear of the Arabic community that had me short of breath, it was fear of the non-Arabic community retaliating against them.
The students that were actually in school had divided into two distinct groups. Those that were somber and very aware of the sadness that swept our nation, and those that were completely naive and made open jokes about the tragedy.
I remember distinctly seeing a boy hold his arms out like an airplane, soaring down the high school hallway towards his friends: twin brothers.
I used to blame and almost hate them for being idiots, but I realize now it was just their way of coping with something so terrible. My generation was unprepared for so much sadness and grief, and it took us several days to snap out of our numbness before we were able to really think clearly about what was happening around us.
The thing that struck me most in the days following 9/11 was the way the students and children around me grew up. I saw bullies stick up against the kids that were joking about the attacks. I saw the quiet, shy kids stand up for the Arabic students. I even saw administrators get told off by students for abusing their power. It was like we had each gained some serious perspective, almost like our community was going through the various stages of mourning simultaneously, and in the end we were left distinctly more sure of where we stood, and how precariously balanced the world we lived in as kids was.
The magnitude of tragedy and hate and misunderstandings surrounding September 11, 2001 is so lost on me, as I imagine it is for many others. My thought process is a lot like saying the words “a thousand million” and then counting them verbally, and then seeing them visually stretched across a distance as if each digit were an inch. My brain can’t quite wrap around the extent that that day has affected a huge portion of the people of the world.
I know we all probably hold our children a little bit tighter. We’ve watched as our cousins, siblings, and friends have rushed off to wars. I’ve seen a fear of and a hatred for a people because of their religion, regardless of their political agenda … just as I’ve seen a hatred of people for their political agendas.
We witnessed heroes arise and the humanity of people as they’ve assisted in the best way that they could. Blame has been tossed around and fingers have been pointed and wagged. A new pride for our country has emerged, just as new extremes of political and religious beliefs have. Communities have embraced cultural differences all while we are removing our shoes and having body scans at airports.
The effects of that day are ongoing. The attacks on America on this day 10 years ago still continue. And we’re finding new symptoms still. To this day. Ten years later.
I think we’ll always wonder what the truth is –without bias – and I don’t know that we’ll ever truly get a story without bias in our lifetime.
I cannot fathom the hatred.
I cannot fathom the love.
A thousand million tears have fallen for that day.
Do you remember what struck you most in the days following 9/11?
Read Full Post »