Friday, September 11, 2009

I remember where I was...

when 9/11 occurred. I was living in Columbia, MO where I was attending Graduate School at the University of Missouri-Columbia. It was a Tuesday morning and I had only one class later that day, my Latin epigraphy class. I woke up around 8:00 am. My clock/alarm was always funky. I could never quite get it tuned to an exact station so when I woke up that morning, I woke up to just a bunch of static noise. Occasionally, I could hear something intelligible. It was set to the local news/talk station so sometimes I did hear a report or something, but nothing really that I could understand. I walked into my living area of my Columbia apartment and turned on the TV. I just had to have some noise on that wasn't just random noise. The first image I saw was one of the the twin towers, in flames. At this point, just watching what was going on and trying to make sense of news flashing on the ticker as well as the reporter trying to give all this information at once, I saw a plane, like a black shadow hit the second tower. Before this, there was still the belief that this was just a serious accident of a plane horribly off course. But when I saw the second plane hit the second building, I knew that this was an attack.

I've always taught my students that geography is destiny. To prove this, I have taught them that the reason the United States has become such a power in the world is due to its geographic isolation because of the two ponds separating us from Europe and Asia. The United States has been attacked on its soil only three times in its history: 1) War of 1812 2) Pearl Harbor and 3) 9/11. Speaking academically, that's something incredible. But dispassionate academics must sometime give way to human suffering.

I tried to go through the rest of my day as if everything was OK. On the shuttle over to campus, the driver had the radio set to the talk station where all these reports were being speedily read over the air. Politicians were interviewed. I remember even hearing a statement from the Taliban that they insisted they were not responsible for what had happened which basically told me that they were lying.

I went to my epigraphy class and all of us sitting in the seminar room were just sitting. We didn't say anything, we didn't do anything. We just sat there. Dr. Trout walked into the room and he could clearly see that we were bothered by the events of the day and I know he was, too. He said we could go through the day's assignments as if nothing had changed, though clearly things had or we could discuss it. We opted to discuss things at first. I found out that no one had immediate family that had been killed in the event, but, at the same time, many reports were still very preliminary and needed follow-up. But we then went on to read some inscriptions--I don't even remember what they were of.

The next day I was to teach my myth class at 8:00 in the morning. I had everything laid out that I was going to talk about. That day's subject was Artemis (I remember that clearly for some reason). As I went in, I could see the look of despair, shock, anger in their faces. I told them that we could go through with the lesson as I had planned it, as if nothing had changed, though things have, or we could talk about it. They opted to talk about it. Reactions and statements ranged from fearful to anger. I had even one student say to me that if he had been on a plane he would have single-handedly taken out the terrorists. I decided not to address his bravado, though clearly a few students rolled their eyes at his suggestion.

The events on that Tuesday became all any of us could talk about for that week. Media wasn't talking about anything else Editorials screamed suggestions. But one thing was clear--Terrorism had come to America and we were now living in a post 9/11 world. It was the day everything changed.

To the victims of this horror, all of them, +Memory eternal.

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