Where Were You September 11, 2001? Here’s Where I Was…

11 Sep

I was living in the heart of Los Angeles on the USC campus. It was my senior year.

The phone rang. I was in bed on my top bunk, so I had to reach to grab it. It was my mom. The first words I remember her saying was “I think we are being attacked.”   It was mass confusion as I jumped down from my bed and ran into the other room to turn on the TV. She kept blurting out words like “New York City” and “plane.” Something about “World Trade Center.”  Just as I turned on MSNBC, I saw the replay of the plane hit the World Trade Center. My tired mind couldn’t compute. I thought I was watching “Die Hard” or “True Lies.” How could this be real? Reporters were trying to hold it together but I could see the confusion on their faces. They didn’t know what to report. Was this an accident? Just then, the second plane hit and it became collectively clear that this was planned. My mom was right.

We were being attacked.

My throat clenched tight. I thought immediately of NYU, where my boyfriend at the time was attending school. His apartment building was a mere 4 blocks away from the World Trade Center.  I had to hang up with my mom so that I could call him. “Was he okay? Were they evacuating him?” In the confusion, I woke my roommates up. They were just as befuddled as I was. I was hysterical and started to cry. I was scared, but didn’t know of what. I prayed but it was like I forgot the words. I didn’t know what to say to God in that moment. I was too panicked to ask why. It was a more “what can I do all the way here in Los Angeles?” question.

I couldn’t track my boyfriend down for a few hours. All the lines were busy. I called his parents in Vancouver. They hadn’t heard but would call me as soon as they did. At one point, one of my roommates realized that one of our friends was in Boston and was supposed to take a flight out that day back to LA. Was he on one of the planes? We didn’t know.

That pretty much sums up that day. We just didn’t know. We didn’t know why. We didn’t know what we could do from so far away. So we prayed. We cried. We huddled together and erected a mock vigil for the victims and their families. The next couple days were a blur but I remember buying a flag and going down to the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights and waving it as people drove by, joining others who wanted to do something to say

“We’re still here. We love America and we will not go quietly.” The smiles and honks validated us.  People were nicer for a few weeks. The sky was eerily quiet for a major metropolitan city. Yet, we were all in it together.  I wanted it to stay that way forever. Why couldn’t we drive like we did on the days after September 11th? Why couldn’t we all be so united? Why did it have to take a national tragedy to remind us that we can be kind and decent to one another? These questions stayed with me…

My boyfriend was okay, my friend wasn’t on the plane, but September 11th shook me to the core. It made me question my life and purpose in the world. Several days passed and others around me started to unexpectedly lose people who were close to them. A parent. A best friend. A beloved grandmother. All of it was too much for me to handle and it brought me to a crisis point. I was 21 and about to be graduating college into a world that I no longer understood.  A world where death was the norm. People could be there and then gone the next day. Life was truly fragile.  What was I to do about that? How was I to respond? How did I trust God in the midst of that uncertainty?

In December 2001 I got the chance to visit Ground Zero.  Although it was in a devastating sense a graveyard for thousands, there was something about Ground Zero that remained hopeful. Candles still burned there.  And passersby remembered, as did the cleaning crew that was still sorting through the remains.  The images of the smoking buildings, the tattered flags, and the crying relatives had stuck with me. But being there brought a sense of relief that I wasn’t crazy. Whereas many of my California friends had moved on from the events that occurred on September 11th, I needed validation that we wouldn’t just forget. I had been marked by it and I needed to see it up close to somehow understand that we would recover.  In those quiet moments where I replayed the events in my head and looked at pictures of the missing who weren’t coming back, I asked God to show me how to remember.

After September 11th, I started to see a therapist. It was a free service at school and while I thought I was dealing with my issues around the day, I really started to deal with deeper, core issues about myself. Was I going to make it? Was I going to be okay after I graduated? If life just offered death unexpectedly, what then could I do? 11 years later I have a better idea. I can keep holding on. I can keep hoping. I can remember and believe and trust. I can hope. It’s September 11, 2012…11 years later. I still think about those feelings I had. The fear. The uncertainty. The sadness in knowing that our country would never be the same.  The knowledge that it is okay to heal and that grief is a part of life. That God is still good even when we don’t know that he is. Despite everything.

I will tell my children where I was. I will offer stories and try to explain. I will keep traditions and grieve well. I will invest my passions and efforts into others because on that day I learned that heroes wear badges and suits and business casual, not always capes.

I want to remember. 

I hope to never forget.

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” Micah 7:7


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