Sunday, September 11, 2011
Where we were when...
On September 11, 2001 where were you? You remember it vividly, right? It is a day that no one who witnessed the unbelievable horror will ever forget. The horror of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the heroic men and women of Flight 93 who fought their hijackers and subsequently crashed in the field of Shanksville, Pennsylvania became our JFK--our December 7, 1941.
I was a graduate student at Wayne State. That Tuesday in September I was sitting in my lighting design class with my fellow students speculating the lateness of our professor, Tom Schraeder. He soon came into class, visibly shaken, telling us that there had been a possible bombing at the World Trade Center in New York. I remember him saying that his daughter was in that area and that he couldn't get a hold of her by phone. Then he became very solemn, looking around the room, he told us that we had more important places to be then school and that there were several televisions set up around the department if we wanted to see the news. I headed back to the costume shop where one of the TVs was set up to see the news. The footage of the towers was playing and a second plane crashed into the south tower. I didn't know it in that instant that it was a replay of what had happen minutes earlier but I could tell what the news commentator couldn't seconds before the plane hit--that it was purposeful. The commentator kept repeating,"is that plane to assess the damage?" We all knew that it wasn't there to observe.
Our classmate, Mindy, was in shock. Her parents were on a fight in Boston, the departure city of those doomed flights. We did our best to comfort her as we tried to take our own minds off what we had just witnessed. We busied ourselves with production work and watch the news simultaneously. It was a futile attempt. Not much work on the productions was completed that morning. My friend, Ricky, was very level headed, calm and able to think clearly in high pressure situations. He suggested that we go next door to a small shop, owned by a couple from Pakistan, to get some snacks and a soda since we didn't know how long we would be on campus. There were some hesitations from the group because we used to call it the "Pakistani store" and the word and country Pakistan had already been mentioned in the news as aiding the terrorists in the attacks. Ricky, never one for prejudice, fervently said that it was not helping the mood of the day to immediately suspect everyone who didn't look like us and that he was going if anyone wanted to join him. I went because he spoke the truth. We couldn't suspect everyone. It is no way to live. The owner and his family we gathered around their television. As we paid for our snacks, the owner said, "This is a very sad day. So much sadness." I was moved to see this man so upset. It was a confirmation of what Ricky had stated moments earlier.
I don't remember the specific order of the events that came next but two hours later when the towers collapsed I was in tears. I knew there was no way that the thousands of people trapped in the towers would have survived. There was a bomb threat called into the campus. Detroit has the largest Arab-American population in the United States combine that with the events of the day and no one was willing to risk more tragedy so the campus was closed. There was also a Mosque nearby to the campus that was vandalized. A tribute to the blind hate that marred the day.
I lived very near to campus--actually I was surrounded by it. I walked home and watched more coverage of the events unfolding. I was so overloaded by the emotions I was feeling that I quite literally became numb. I couldn't move from my couch for what seemed like hours. Finally, and somehow, I became aware of where I was. I got up. I decided that I should go to a grocery store but the local store close to campus had been shut down when the bomb threat was called in to campus and so I went out to Madison Heights. The Kroger was open but looked eerily like a ghost town as I walked down the aisles that were bare of many canned goods, batteries, and dairy products. I was able to pick up some bread, a little soy milk, granola bars, water and some chocolate. As I drove back towards Detroit, the freeway had been barricaded down to one lane. Traffic, although not heavy, was stop and go. I sat stopped on the freeway I noticed a small plastic flag on the pavement. As a police vehicle passed me the flag became caught in the wind. It was like the video of the plastic bag in the movie of American Beauty and I was caught up in the relativity of the movie title to the flag twirling in the breeze...and then John Lennon's Imagine played on the radio. The impact of the events of the day, the emotions I was feeling, and the fact that I was so far away from family overcame me and I couldn't stop weeping.
That's how I remember September 11, 2001.