As a child I remember on the occasions my mother reminisced with her friends, they would sometimes ask, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” I remember being fascinated by the answer, but equally annoyed by the question because it felt like the passcode to a special club. A club to which, by virtue of my birth year, I would never belong. I felt left out.
For many the question about JFK was replaced ten years ago. Now we ask “Where were you on 9/11?” and I have an answer. I belong to the club. Except now more than anything I wish it was a club that did not exist.
I have to admit I’m having a hard time with all the 9/11 coverage this week. I find the 10 years that has passed has done little to dull how I feel about the day and its aftermath. But what does help is the personal stories of others who bore witness to the horror, whether from too close or too far away.
So if you’re willing, I ask you to share your 9/11 story in the comments. Where were you when you heard? How did you feel? How has it impacted you since?
And since fair is fair, here is my 9/11 story. It’s not dramatic. I didn’t lose anyone I loved during the attacks. I was 2,500 miles away from where they took place. This story is just my entry into the club.
I was in Seattle on September 11, 2001, on a plane that would not take off that day or even the next. It was 6:00 am local time and I was supposed to be flying to California on business. The plane was full and we were getting impatient for it to push back from the gate when the pilot announced “A plane has flown into the World Trade Center.”
This was before smartphones, so the beeps and buzzes of Twitter, Facebook, and texts had not already alerted me to the news. Instead I opened up my (not so little) flip-phone and called my father back in Southborough. He had a TV in his office that was often tuned to CNN, so I figured he’d be able to tell me what was happening.
I’ll never forget the sound of his voice when he answered the phone.
“Haven’t you heard? Don’t you know?” he asked.
I felt the first waves of panic and dread then.
I left the airport as quickly as I could. We didn’t know at the time how many locations had been targeted and an airport did not seem like a safe place to be. On the drive back to my Seattle office I listened to news that the first tower had collapsed. Then the second. I pulled over and called my mother and we cried.
I find I still cry.