Saturday, September 12, 2009

What Kind of Day Has It Been

I was sleeping. I was awakened to a loud banging at my door. God, the banging.

Usually, in my sophomore year in college, if someone was banging on my dorm room door, it was to irritate me. This time was different. I didn't wake up irritated. I woke up instinctively cringing. Something was wrong.

Joe was the one who knocked at the door. He yelled something unintelligible. I heard the words "crash" and "New York City", though. My first thought was, "Why would I care?" Not one of my proudest memories, obviously.

I woke up groggily. I honestly don't remember if my roommate was in the room. I think he was. I just knew that something was wrong. The banging didn't make sense. It wasn't persistent; it was urgent. I had to go to someone's room and find out what was going on. While preparing to get ready for the day, I could hear footsteps and loud voices up and down the hallway. People were getting up and scrambling to a friend's room.

It was Keenan's room. I was still dressed in my sleep clothes. My glasses were crooked, and my eyes couldn't focus. I remember stumbling into his room asking, "What's going on?" "SHHH!" Then I saw it.

I saw a clip of a plane flying into a building. Was it an accident? Where was that? Was it a movie clip? What am I seeing? I could hear the anchormen talking, but I couldn't comprehend their words. I just kept watching the same clip, over and over. And finally, something clicked with me. The other building had smoke coming from it, too. It was not an accident.

I believe that humans can instinctively predict or assess danger. There are many times when we are uncertain of danger, but we are never wrong when we are certain there is danger. When I woke up, I already knew something was wrong. I was right, but I clearly did not gauge the magnitude of it.

Bits of news came flooding out of the television. The Pentagon was hit. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The first tower was expected to fall. And then I saw it. Live. It was the most horrifying sight of my life. It was on television, but it was not a movie.

I remember looking at the CNN webpage frequently that day. The whole page was covered by a brutally ugly photograph of the carnage. I remember reading e-mails. Classes were not canceled, but attendance wasn't required. I had to go. I had to look away from the television. I had to learn something, anything, to keep my mind off the crushing reality.

I didn't think I could become angrier that day, but after an hour and fifteen minutes of hearing honor students somehow, mere hours after the attacks, claim without an ounce of reservation that the attacks were a message, were a response to our actions, were somehow "necessary" in their eyes. Who the attackers were was pretty clear, even by that point. Who we were was altogether uncertain. And as I watched this scarringly unbearable conversation unfold in the room, I said nothing. I was now no longer angry but alone. In a few hours, my life and the universe around me were forever changed.

I went to geology class later that afternoon. The professor kept a strong face and ruefully continued lecture, as if nothing was going on. I kept looking around the class, everyone with eyes on their cell phones waiting for the latest news. He was speaking to an inattentive class, and he knew it. I happen to believe it was his way of coping. All I could do was take notes and keep a strong face until I made it back to my room.

As I walked back, I finally looked up to an empty sky. No sounds of planes, no leftover contrails. Nothing. It was actually even more devastating than the footage on television. No television cameras for this image. Only my own eyes, finally awake to the bitter reality. The attacks had finally reached me.

That night was full of walks, with friends who have come and gone in my lifetime. Everyone, it seemed, was outside. The pain of what was going on inside the rooms was too much for anyone to bear. Only fresh air amidst the murmurs of anguish could somehow rid my world, indeed everyone's, of what had happened. After discussing the day over and over, I walked back to my room in a daze. I knew the world would never be the same.

I looked up at the sky one more time, hoping to hear something far above. I only saw stars mysteriously not twinkling. Then, I saw a meteor falling, fading out, fully aware of its mortality. It was a crushing final moment during the worst of days.

Each year, we are forced to ponder the events of that day, the floodgate of memories unrelenting. All of the cliches are mentioned time and time again. "We will never forget! Freedom is not free! God bless America!"

Are these lines supposed to make me feel better? Are they supposed to show our resolve in the midst of catastrophe? Are they philosophical and human truths that somehow manifest themselves as coping words? For me, they are meaningless words, responding to a meaningless act, in an often meaningless world. Words are not enough for me to cope with the attacks. Time does not heal all wounds. I don't know what the salve is that will heal this wound, my wound. I still cannot watch the footage of the attacks. It nauseates me. It makes me cry. It makes me unbelievably sad.

I see a world so beautiful, so devastatingly phenomenal. I wonder. Why can't everyone else?