Where were you nine years ago…

…when 9/11 occurred?

We’ll never forget.

It was my first year at the University of Pennsylvania. It was my first week of classes. I was writing my first essay for my English class, an essay on Indian reservations. I was writing and gathering my thoughts and typing them in my school’s computer lab downstairs in Mayer Hall, the dormitory I was living in. My first class that Tuesday, that fateful day, started at 1000. I began writing at 0700.

I was seated, deep in thought, writing my fourth page, when a flurry of messages hit me on AIM.

“Hey, where are you?!?” exclaimed my friend Rebecca, who lived across the 38th/Spruce intersection in Stouffer Hall. “WHERE ARE YOU!?!!”

“Bec,” I messaged back, “writing for English class in the Mayer lab. What’s wrong?”

“Do you see anyone in the Mayer lounge?”

“Yes, loads of people. They are all watching TV.”

“Yes, go to the lounge, you need to go to the lounge now!”

“What’s going on???”

“GO TO THE (EXPLETIVE) LOUNGE!!!!”

“Alright, hold on. I’ll do what I can to help,” I messaged, assuming she was desperate for something or someone. “Are you looking for someone?”

“No!!! JUST WATCH THE NEWS!!!!”

I hustled across the lobby to where everyone was watching the news unfold on CNN.

The image of the first tower on fire. The images of screaming people on the television.

The sobs of people in the lounge – the Wharton (UPenn’s business school) community was hard hit, as several alumni worked for companies in those towers.

One girl who lived on the floor above me – a sophomore at the time – lost both parents that day. Both worked in the towers. At the time, she was freaking out, trying to call. Nothing.

Morgan Stanley was heavily situated in those towers at the time, and recruited droves of students from our school. Many people in the lounge had friends from last year who were stuck in those towers.

The tears, the screams, the cursing in the lounge. And then we saw the second tower fall.

Amidst the screams and sobs in the lounge, I sat down, aghast. I didn’t know what to say to anyone. I was lost. Was this happening? Was this for real? Why? Why now? Why us?

Two seconds later, more students from other floors in our building piled in to the lounge. One student, who had JUST woke up, stepped in and saw us all crying. Oblivious to everything that transpired, he stammered, “guys, why are you freaking out? It’s only a movie…”

“NO IT’S NOT!!!!!!” we all screamed. It was when he saw the CNN icons in the lower right hand corner did he mutter a string of expletives followed by an apology.

Classes were cancelled that day. I had gotten a flurry of emails from the university administration on how to proceed, what to do next. My history professor emailed us saying that his class would still go on, saying that if he were to cancel class “the terrorists” will have won. He mentioned he would not punish anyone who opted to stay home.

We learned that the Pentagon was affected, and that another plane had crashed in Shanksville, in the western part of the state. I have a load of relatives that live and work in DC, although none near there. Nonetheless, we all got cold calls on our cells to ensure we were fine.

We were fine, but we were not.

The world, as we knew it, was permanently scarred. It would never be the same.

The images of the firemen, police and all those who played out as heroes still are engraved somewhere in my mind. Every anniversary of this horrid day that passes, these images pop up in my head. I’ll never forget that day, how I was writing, how I was interrupted, and how my world changed forever that day.

I’ll never forget those who acted as heroes then…and those that carry out our mission against terrorism today. And even if we’re not the ones on the front lines, we can still keep the memory and our mission alive in other ways.

Here’s a salute to all those who died, all those who acted in bravery then and now. What are you doing to remember?

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