Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Retrospect

Even after six years it's hard to contemplate the events of September 11th, 2001. One thing I remember is that I was teaching World Literature that morning to my high school class. Often I forget to write the date on the board, and so that morning I made a point of writing it out: September 11, 2001. Usually I might just abbreviate it like this: Sept.11. I'm not sure why I wrote it out that morning; it's a coincidence and nothing more. One of my students, though, after hearing the news, asked me tearfully: "Why did you write out the date? You never write out the whole date like that! Why did you do it?" She seemed to feel that by writing out that now-legendary date I had somehow set events in motion, had precipitated the tragedy that no one, even now, can quite comprehend.

But I wrote the date and then went about teaching, not knowing what would happen any more than the other Americans who went about their morning routines. We were reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, and were discussing, ironically, a part in which terrorists kill the president and Congress and take over the running of the country. I was trying to persuade my students that it wasn't as crazy as it sounded--that freedom was a precarious thing unless people were vigilant.

Then a white-faced colleague called me into the hall. Based on her expression, I thought she was going to tell me that one of my children had been hurt or killed; so when she told me that the World Trade Center had been attacked I felt a momentary relief, terrible as that sounds, because my children were safe.

But I didn't feel that they were safe as the day went on, as the horrible footage played across television screens and we saw the aftermath of hatred. Anyone's safety seemed like an illusion at that point, and the dead were like victims of some horrible lottery, some chance decision of an enemy.

Now we have, perhaps, an emotional distance, but it all comes back, feels immediate again, when we see the footage and hear the stories. We'll never forget and, as people predicted on that day, we'll never view the world quite the same way.


Admin said...

A good post about a horrible day, Julia. I was test-driving a car when my husband called to tell me that the Twin Towers had been hit. I thought he was joking, but turned on the radio and realized that he wasn't. (As if he'd joke about something like that, but it was just so hard to believe that it was happening.) The salesperson made a half-hearted attempt to make the sale, but we both knew that it wasn't going to happen. I just wanted to drive home and make sure my kids were okay. I didn't watch the coverage, because I didn't want to upset them. We lived at the top of a hill, not far from the airport and I thought it was so strange not to hear or see planes for so long. A very eerie and heartbreaking day.


Julia Buckley said...

I remember the silent sky, too. So bizarre and out of context.

When my friend in the hall told me the World Trade Center was under attack, all I really heard was the word "Attack," and I couldn't for the life of me remember what the World Trade Center was.

I don't think there's any story from that day that isn't ironic.