Remembering September 11

I cannot believe it has been 6 years since 9/11 happened… so much has changed then, but the memory of that day still lingers on.

The New York Times has an interesting series of essays written by journalists who covered 9/11 for the Times.

Where were you, and what were you doing on 9/11?

Six years ago I was still in college, living in a 3rd Avenue dorm below 14th street. I had stayed up all night trying to finish my homework, so I had all my blinds shut and wasn’t watching TV. 3rd Avenue is normally a very noisy street anyway and I lived on the 2nd floor, so I didn’t even notice the sounds of fire trucks and emergency vehicles wailing down the street nor did I notice the increased pedestrian noise.

Around 11am I checked my computer (which had been on all night long) and saw some panicked IMs from people asking if I was ok. The night before I had put up this completely ominous away message–lyrics from Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic”–since I had been depressed about all the school work I had to do and unfortunately it still remained up. “Bones sinking like stones/ All that we’ve fought for/ All these places we’ve grown/All of us are done for.” I wrote back, “What are you talking about?” and they just told me to turn on the television.

When I saw TV footage of the towers coming down I couldn’t even comprehend. I pulled up my blinds and saw people below me covered with soot. There was a pay phone directly across from my window, and I saw people lined up to use it. I tried to use my cell phone to let family know I was ok (and to see if any of my family members were hurt, but of course it was not working.

A few hours later I got an email from my journalism professor (I was supposed to have had a “Feature Article” class later that day) saying that class was canceled, but we were still expected to do an assignment–to cover the media coverage of the event. Some students wrote back angry messages to the professor, asking how she could even think of asking us to do an assignment when some of the students couldn’t even get back into their dorms and some feared that they might have lost friends or family in the fall. (My school had a few dorms that were downtown below Canal street and within 15 minutes walking of the WTC.) Many students ended up transferring out of the class because of the situation.

I didn’t remember the following until I read an old piece I did for a school project a month or so after it happened–I couldn’t sleep that night. I ended up listening to a UK radio station on the internet, and calling in to talk about the tragedy. I thought it would help me cope, but instead it made me feel worse. Here’s what I wrote:

Television’s constant replay of the tragedy provided no escape from sleeplessness after the World Trade Center towers fell. It was 2:38 a.m. Hoping for distraction, I turned to the Internet, where thousands of radio programs were broadcasting live from around the world. I tuned in to XFM, one of the stations I used to listen to during my five-month stay in London, earlier this year.

I should have guessed: Christian, the morning deejay, was commenting on the crisis. He was describing a full-page picture of the smoke clouds from Tower 2, which The Mirror said contained what appeared to be the face of Osama bin Laden. Christian found the story disgusting and vile and urged his listeners to write the newspaper in protest.

It appalled me, too. I dashed off an e-mail, expressing my disappointment in the British press and asking Christian to play Coldplay’s “Everything’s Not Lost” for the comfort it might afford. Twenty minutes later, he played the song and read my message on the air. He also sent me an e-mail. If you’d like to chat about the crisis, he asked, would you give me your telephone number? I wrote back with my number and urged him to call.

His questions came fast. Where were you when it happened? How close do you live to the site? How is your family? What’s the sentiment on the street? I stammered as I grappled for answers, growing strangely fatigued. Why had I agreed to speak with this guy?, I wondered.

I had wanted to proclaim the glory of New York City; I had wanted to let everyone know that the city stood united, that we weren’t going to let anyone take us down. Instead, I was talking about wreckage, ambulances and people covered with soot.

I felt exploited. I felt like a fool. I wanted to hang up.

The next day my professor told us to get a copy of the New York Times. It was nearly impossible to get a paper. The streets in New York City were empty–a completely odd event in one of the most populous cities in the world. The subways were running, I took one to Times Square–which also was deserted.

6 Replies to “Remembering September 11”

  1. I would have bitched out your journalism professor.
    Media coverage & how it was handled would have made a fine topic for class discussion once classes resumed, but issuing assignments during a national state of emergency is just crass and self-important.

    I wonder if you could get the xm recording of you?

  2. well, i was in london then, and it was when i realised the city is so related to ny.
    i was in greenwich market when a girl in a stand told me what happened but i couldn’t believe.
    i got the first train back to trafalgar square thinking she was a weirdo. on the train there was a girl crying desperate, some people try to confort her, and she was sobbin “my housband works there, terrorist attacks”.
    but still i couldn’t understand what was happening, so i got in the national gallery and after 15 minutes everyone was asked to get out due to security problems. trafalgar square was empty the subway was closed and police was urging people to go back home.
    i was living near russel square, so i decided to go to a friends house in camden. he opened the door crying “this is the end, life will never be the same, they bombed the pentagon and vatican city”.
    three hours after the attack i understood what was happening. we sat in front of the tv watching all the attacks and listening to all the lies.
    my phone ringed “come back home, they are saying london it’s next target”.
    i spent the next three days (and nights) at stansted trying to get a flight back home.

    i can’t believe 6 years have passed and there’s still someone thinking that war can solve this.

  3. I was studying in London during 9/11. I met another American couple on the train and mentioned the attacks, turns out their son worked on the 90th floor. I basically told them their son was most likely dead. I don’t think I felt the full effects since I was overseas but it was definitley a scary time for all.

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