This post has taken me 8 years to write. Yesterday, as I was walking to class on a campus I haven't taught at for 5 years, the day reminded me eerily of a day 8 years ago. That day, 8 years ago, I arrived on campus early to prepare for an 11:30 class. Ironically, it was a beautiful fall day, without a cloud in the sky.
As I sat in my office, someone came down the hall from the faculty lounge and announced the an airplane had crashed into the world trade center. I thought, "oh, that's awful," but went on with my class prep. I figured I'd hear more as the morning went on. When the second crash happened moments later, faculty began to stream out to the lounge where the TV was on. We watched in horror as the building burned. It wasn't until a young colleague of mine gasped and said, "It's falling!" that we really understood the impact. She and I both left to go to our offices, not able to see the whole thing play out. Both of us were in tears.
This was only the beginning of a long day, however, as we did not realize the impact it would have on our campus, families, and communities. A while later, not able to work, I went to the faculty lounge where were wondering what we should do with our classes. One of the professors came in looking very upset. He had told the class that given the nature of the tragedy of the World Trade Center, he would understand if students wanted to leave and watch what was going on. When a female student, looking stricken, asked what had happened, he explained and proceeded to watch her become hysterical. Her father worked in the WTC.
It soon became evident that this was something that was going to affect many of students as we pull a large number from the New York City area. Should we cancel class? How could we think of teaching after the impact it was having on our campus?
Added to this was the worry whether this would be it or if there would be other areas in our region impacted. Many of us had children in school and because the impact on the region, many of the schools were closing early (ours included). However, the school decided to continue classes as scheduled. It was weeks later that we were told the reasoning for this: many of the students with families in the NYC areas wanted to go home. However, it was deemed that the saftest thing was to have them stay on campus in safe, secure areas when 1) there was no public transportation available to the area as everything had been shut down, 2)there were major traffic jams in the area as people fled and others tried to get in to help, and 3) many of the parents were in a state of shock and wanted to make sure their children were away from ground 0. I taught my two classes, picked up my kids and went home.
My children had to be picked up by my in-laws as my husband's job was one designated as a vital job (there were many, as a computer programmer we couldn't figure out how his could be so vital, but they wouldn't let him leave). Both of us, though, had a moment of panic after the initial crash. What if they decided to target other land marks in the Northeast or New York state? We were on the opposite side of the river from where my children were and we would have had a problem if the bridge closed. We appreciated having family nearby to help.
Of course, not all my family was nearby. My husband's sister and brother-in-law were Las Vegas as the transportation system was halted for a week. My mother was at her summer home off the cost of Long Island. When the twin towers were taken out, so were most of the equipment used to broadcast news reports. She had to hear from my sister in Chicago, who called when she saw the first news report, what had happened. By the end of the day, however, she was hearing first hand accounts as many of our neighbors fled the city to stay at their summer homes until it was safe to go back. In some cases, this was a year later (including a neighbor I grew up with who lived across the street from the WTC).
That evening, we (as I think most people) went out to eat as a family, just to grab some pizza. As we drove home, there was a sense of peace and community as people sat outside (it had turned warm during the day) and lit candles for those killed in the attack. There were some people from our town killed; many friends, relatives, alumni, and colleagues from our campus killed; new neighbors that relocated from the city; and many volunteers that spent months (and who are feeling the health effects from it) down on ground zero. For me, the strangest thing was the silence that settled over the community. I remember jumping the first time I heard a plane go over our house a week after 9-11, normally hearing planes a common occurance. I wondered if I had heard the hijacked plane from Boston that morning as I went to school, as they determined the flight went over our community.
A couple of years later, my nieces were visiting from Michigan. We brought them to the New York State Museum, where there is a great exhibit on 9-11. I was surprised at how moved they were by the exhibit. Anyone that might come to the Albany, NY region should definiately visit it. They said that while they had seen the images (over and over), the exhibit gave it more reality, the shock, horror, and humanity of the tragedy.
While I was fortunate not to know anyone personnally who was killed, I knew many who had loved ones killed. It changed our community. And for one day, the grief of what happened on 9-11 brought us together and made our region eerily peaceful.