Usually I woke up to music, or maybe DJs joking around on their morning show. The songs or upbeat voices would stir me out of my too few hours of sleep, and I would press snooze once or twice. That morning as I slowly awoke and mustered the strength to climb out of bed, the sound from my radio alarm clock was different. It was just voices, very serious voices. It didn’t quite register until the voices came back on for the 3rd time after a couple hits of the snooze that some news broadcast must be interrupting the morning music show, and that it sounded like they were staying on the same topic. Something about a plane, maybe something about a building… I was still too groggy to comprehend.
Shoot, it was 7:45. Had to be on upper campus for class at 8:00. Gotta go.
As I hurried out of my suite I asked Casey in passing if she’d heard anything that morning about something serious happening with a plane. She hadn’t.
But as I powerwalked up to the Clark Classroom something on campus didn’t feel right. The few people I passed looked hurried and preoccupied.
I got to the back door of the class at 8:03. Professor Longman was praying, voice trembling. This was not how he opens class. I could hear someone quietly crying. His prayer contained the first details I'd heard that morning...planes hitting buildings in New York City, chaos and damage somewhere around the Capitol, the victims and their families. Then he dismissed class because, as he said, "I'm sure the only thing all of us want to do is watch tv to find out more about what is going on." Most of the class went downstairs to huddle around the tiny Clark Lounge tv, but I headed down to the DC to watch it on a bigger screen and maybe find a friend and hear more of the reaction from around campus.
I walked into the DC to an eery sight I'd never seen before... dozens and dozens of students transfixed, plates of food forgotten, jaws dropped, staring at the flat screen tv. Their faces registered some dismay, but mostly they looked shocked. I joined the crowd to finally see my first images of the day. You know how it looked, as they played it over and over and over again. The jumbo jets flew into skyscrapers. First one, which was unbelievable. Then a second, which was absolutely frightening. It's still outrageous to think about. Then images of the disaster at the Pentagon. Reporters saying that there were maybe another plane or a few other planes to be worried about. And then, the buildings collapsed. There's no way. Many of us had to see it a few times to really get it... the Twin Towers no longer stood. Like it was a movie. It was like we were watching a movie but there was no way to know how to react when what you're seeing just happened to some of the biggest and most important buildings in your country. And, as the speculation grows, it likely happened as a result of a full scale strategic terrorist attack against your country. We didn't know what to say to each other. Like I said, it was just shock.
I called in to Carlitos Cava Restaurant where I worked in Montecito that fall of my sophomore year at Westmont. I asked if they needed me, and they said they certainly didn't anticipate getting any business that afternoon so I didn't have to come in. From what I remember most classes were canceled, and then our chaplain called for a special chapel later in the day for students to gather and discuss and pray about what was going on. Apart from that, my suitemates and I spent the rest of the day sitting in my room, transfixed to the tv, and doing mindless things like painting our nails while trying to piece together what the day would mean and what tomorrow would look like and how things would change... as best as our nineteen year old selves could.
That was a dynamic and transformative year for me in many other ways, my second year of college, but it was kicked off by September 11th. That date will never look normal again, I've thought every year since, as I glance at my phone or write a check or look at my work calendar. I'll never forget how that day played out for me, and I think it's been very interesting to have experienced it on the cusp of becoming an adult and have it shape my adult life thus far.