Friday, September 9, 2011


I’m not sure if it was the 6th, 7th or 10th, but it was my senior year of college and I was a Resident Advisor (RA).  It was on the 6th, 7th or 10th when the RAs for my dorm had a meeting and the main topic of discussion was fire inspections – that is, the week of September 10, the fire marshal would come through all the dorm rooms and check to make sure no one had a fire hazard present.  I believe they were scheduled to start mid-week, but for some reason might start a little sooner and we were to be ready.

Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I was sleeping in because I didn’t have any classes that day.  A frantic knocking woke me up.  I thought to myself, “Oh, great; fire inspection time.”  As I put on some proper clothes the knocking continued and a voice from the other side said, “Cliff!  Wake up!  You’ve got to see what’s happening on TV!”  I recognized the voice as that of my friend, Joe.

As soon as I opened the door he rushed in, looking for the TV remote.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Two 747s crashed into the World Trade Center and another one went after the Pentagon!  It’s just like in a movie or something!”  This was my friend Joe who had a flair for the dramatic, was easily excitable, and was a master BSer; however there was a ring of authenticity to his words.

Before I could say anything more than, “What?” he had the TV on and there was the footage of smoke pouring out of both towers.

“Holy crap, we’re under attack!” Joe said.

I was still waking up.  What was going?  What did this mean? I wondered.

“I’ve got to go,” Joe said.  He ran out the door and I took my seat in front of the TV.

A few minutes later, the first tower fell.  Not long after, the second tower fell.  There was pandemonium on the streets as the networks brought live coverage of the event to everyone who would watch.  Everyone was freaking out.

And finally, I was afraid.

All flights in the U.S. were grounded; there was talk of another crash in Pennsylvania.  My dad was probably traveling that day and though he hadn’t done business in the Northeastern area of the country for a while, that was the first thing that came to mind.  I tried calling him and after a few tries while all circuits were busy, I finally got through to his voicemail.  It rang first, then went to voicemail, indicating that his phone was at least still operational even if he might not have been.

I just stayed glued to the TV for another hour or so.  Then it occurred to me that some of my residents were from the New York/New Jersey area.  I also had a resident on my hall who is of Middle Eastern descent and shared the name of Iraq’s former dictator.  I started going room-to-room and checking on the guys; aside from being stunned, and some of them angry, they were all fine and those who had family in and around the New York area said all their loved ones were safe.  Some of them told me that they were hearing of attacks on people who looked even remotely like someone from the Middle East.

Checking on Saddam, his roommate answered the door.  He said Saddam wasn’t there, but he was okay.  And this guy, Saddam, was one of the nicest guys I’d ever met.  Before that day everyone would joke about his name and he was nice about it, joking along.  But that day could have changed everything; thankfully, it didn’t.

Getting back to my room I heard my cell phone ringing – it was dad.  He was in Mississippi or Alabama or somewhere.  We talked for a few minutes, then I resumed my vigil in front of the TV as footage of the attacks was replayed; as footage of people scrambling through the streets as more buildings fell was played; as footage of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places celebrated in their streets, burning U.S.A. flags, having a good old time.

At some point I started recording it all on my VCR.

At one point I broke down and cried; not out of fear, but sadness, watching people who would normally be proud, strong, in charge of their lives be thrown into ruin, desperation, abject terror. 

My country was no longer invulnerable.  In my mind, it wouldn’t be long before the movie Red Dawn would become a true story and battle would erupt across the U.S.

Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet.

In the days following I was comforted by the strength of President Bush and proud of the union that existed among the political parties.  For the briefest of moments in our country’s history, everyone seemed to be on the same side.

How soon we forget what joy there is in being united.

How soon we forget our inherent vulnerability as individuals, and as a nation, and revert to ways of living that see only to our personal needs and not the needs of others.

September 11 was just a graphic reminder of this fact, but this happens everyday on smaller, more personal scales.  Something rattles our cages, we get scared, we get help, then we feel better and resume normal living, never having learned anything – wash, rinse, repeat – 390th verse same as the first. 

“Friends” are made in times of peril and then forsaken when all is well.  It’s just the way of things.

There is a difference between feeling better and getting better.  They’re not mutually exclusive, but the former always precedes the latter and we wee humans tend to get it backwards.

Thank God for Jesus.

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