Saturday, September 10, 2011

Memories of 9/11

I thought I might as well record my memories of that day since everyone else is too.  I share memories with the caveat from this Scientific American article that studies have found memories are very faulty and while we think they're real, they may not be.

9/11 was a Tuesday and I had International Economics in the morning. I remember Dr. Trask telling us "Someone just told me that an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center."  She tried to call up a news website but said that the internet seemed to not be working. I remember a student saying something like "Yeah, a second plane hit too," but it didn't register.  We proceeded to have class, dealing with international trade.  I had remembered reading a blurb in the news about a trade protest and imagined some Greenpeace protestor crashing a small Cessna into the WTC. No big deal, I didn't think much about it.

After class I walked down to Arby's for lunch.  As I stood in line to order, I saw people standing and watching the TVs, while others were just sitting and eating like normal. I saw a tower smoking, and it was apparently a replay. As I took my tray to my seat they showed a replay of the towers collapsing. It was all surreal.  Then I started to read the crawl at the bottom of the screen and saw that a plane was missing, or that one had crashed in Pennsylvania.  That was my first inkling that something was very, very wrong and I felt a chill.

After lunch, I walked back up to campus. On the way I passed Sara, who had been in a group that I went to New York City with in March of 2001. She was on her cellphone but said something like "isn't it crazy?"

I hit the computer lab before class but ran into the same problem Dr. Trask had earlier-- the Internet wasn't working.  I recall being able to bring up the NY Times homepage and reading a message about system overloads as everyone was trying to get online to get news. The lack of information was frustrating, so I just rolled with it and went to class-- Russian Language.

When I got in the room, Professor Ruder had a TV on turned to the news.  Everyone was just sitting silently watching.  Nobody said a word and after about 10 minutes I wanted to ask "Um, are we having class?"  Not sure what to do, but pretty certain that this was how we would spend the class period, I just got up and left.  I'd rather watch my own TV.  Prof. Ruder sent me an email later to check on me because she was concerned at how I just left.  I'd have rather had class that day.

Once I got home, I think I turned on the TV to get updates and it didn't take long to learn what everyone else knew-- which wasn't much at that point.  I remember checking email and reading a prayer request for a  friend's brother who worked at the Pentagon and was unaccounted for (he turned up fine later). I remember calling my mom because it seemed the right thing to do. Don't think anything profound was said, wasn't a long conversation.

I'm not sure how the rest of the day was spent, but I remember that I got word of a student-led prayer gathering on campus that evening.  I mainly remember we were in circles of maybe 20 people, holding hands and praying fairly spontaneously.  I don't remember if anyone opened or closed the meeting, it was mostly just prayer.  And how do you pray in that situation?  I remember not really knowing what to pray for.

My worst memory of that day is one guy fervently praying that God would send more planes to destroy more buildings if that's what it took to get America to repent.  That struck me as the opposite of how Isaiah and Jeremiah and Moses prayed for Israel-- always begging God for mercy even when they knew Israel deserved judgment.  But this guy was praying for just the opposite and I remember one or two others chiming in with "yes, Lord!" as he prayed this ridiculous prayer.  Wish I could forget that moment, that guy is still one of my all-time-least-favorite people from college.  

It was around that time that I started to pray for countries in Central Asia. I didn't know that in a year's time I'd be packing up to move to one.

After the meeting broke up, a few friends and I went down to one of the places in the Student Union with a big-screen television and watched the President's speech.  I remember him invoking language from the Psalms. Then I went home.

That night a telemarketer or surveyor called the house to do a survey.  He apologized profusely, you could tell  his company was under a deadline to get a survey done (about insurance or something) and he basically begged me to do the survey. I obliged and then he obliged as I shared the Gospel with him when the survey was finished. "If you had been in the towers today, do you know where you'd spend eternity...?"

I remember that all of my Wednesday classes met like normal the next day, and that made me bitter because many of my friends' classes canceled. One teacher felt remorse, I think, so we had a very awkward moment of silence on Friday.

In church on the Sunday afterward, Dr. Henard preached from Luke 13:1-5 "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish," which I think is appropriate for any disaster (see v. 4-5).  For certain services, like this one, he had a way of trying to evoke an emotional response, hinting strongly, but not asking directly, for people to come to the altar and pray at the end of this service. I remember he got kind of mad when people hesitated to come forward and do so, so down front we went.  In one of the services, someone (likely a visitor) stood up at his seat and started speaking in tongues, which never happened nor was welcomed at the time, but it passed quickly and was laughed at by staff later.

I taught 9th grade guys Sunday School, and I'm pretty sure I talked about Romans 13:1-5-- how Paul affirmed the authority of the State to yield the sword (ie: as a justification of our now going to war. Was I trying to paraphrase Piper or someone else? Probably, I don't recall).  I'm pretty sure the high school SS director made some long comments such that I didn't have much time to teach anyway (my worst teaching experience ever was teaching SS that year. I still regret volunteering to do it-- for multiple reasons).

Those are my collective memories of that week.

By the end of that school year, one of my former classmates who had joined the National Guard to pay for school got called up and began what was a long series of multiple deployments, including stop-loss extra time in Iraq.  When he (and others I knew) joined up long before 9/11 it seemed the odds of deployment were very small. War changed the calculus there. It changed everything.  The underlying uncertainty of those months was what was most disturbing, and what I most want to forget.


wwje said...

Like your reflections Justin, I have mixed feelings about this day. I really appreciate you sharing these memories that are honest and not so clouded by any allegiances or ideology other than your experience of that moment and trying to make sense of it. This is the kind of reflection we need on this day. Thanks.

practicingresurrection said...

I agree. I appreciate the honest recollections...