There is a perennial question asked of those who in any way bear witness to momentous events: what were you doing when …? I can tell you what I was doing when I got the news about JFK. (Yeah. I was a kid, but I can still remember the details. For that matter, ask me about the Cuban Missile Crisis.) I can tell you what I was doing when I got the news that Elvis died. And I’m sure that 9/11/2001 is so indelibly imprinted on my brain that you could hook up a video player to it and get hours of recordings in full color.
On 9/11/2001, I was berating my internet connection for being so slow that I could cook and eat a meal before I got a reply to my inquiries about a train trip I was trying to schedule. Then my mother gave me a call and told me to turn on the TV. Because we lived in Northern Virginia at the time, about 10 miles outside Washington, D.C., we got a lot of news first about a plane flying into the Pentagon. And my first thought was to wonder if anyone I knew was there. Then the picture switched to coverage of New York.
With my eyes glued to the TV, I started calling dear friends in California, my prior home for 22 years. Despite the early hour there, I knew that several friends had family in the NYC area, and I wanted to both alert them and share concerns with them. At the time, the towers were intact. Together, my best friend and I, on the phone, on separate TV’s on opposite sides of the country watched the towers burn and fall. Live and in color. We could hardly believe what we saw.
It was hard to stop talking to my friend, but there were other friends in D.C. that I knew to have family working in NYC. I wanted to hear if they were all right. So, we reluctantly said goodbye and I started dialing my East Coast friends. I reached both sets of friends, but no one knew yet. We didn’t know until much later in the day that all loved ones were well. For all the people I knew personally, the worst experience was having a long walk home from NYC to New Jersey. Yet, as I watched I could imagine all the loved ones I didn’t know who would not be going home that day. I could almost hear the cries of anguish of their families and friends. I could see the open wound on U.S. soil. I wondered then and wonder now when it will heal.
Again and again, the news channels replayed the coverage of the plane crashes, the burning, the collapse of the buildings. It was a terrible thing to watch. No one could stop watching.
What were you doing on 9/11/2001?