Confusion. Disbelief. A flicker of excitement. Hope. Guilt. Waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. And watching. Wanting to know details. Wanting to be sure.

Last night’s news was unexpected, to say the least. Historical. I don’t want to get into politics here, but I can’t help feeling the weight of bin Laden’s death, it’s impact on America’s story. On the world.

9/11 was almost 10 years ago. As much as I’m a kid now, I was a kid then. And despite my awful memory, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Mrs. L running into our 1st period history class and whispering to Mrs. B, then Mrs. B’s face blanching, then Mr. B canceling our regular lessons and wheeling out the TV. We all sat rapt, watching and listening to the scramble of false reports. Small hobby plane — no, commercial jet. One plane — no, two. Pilot error — no, terrorist attack.

Between classes, we heard shocked, scared whispers in the hallway. Second tower. Fell. Pentagon. During 3rd period calculus, an office attendant came in and handed a note to Mr. M. After reading it, he told a girl sitting two rows ahead of me to pack her things and go see the principal. Her brother worked in the World Trade Center.

In 4th period, Mrs. G said, “Let’s not pretend there’s anything more important than this right now.” She let us use our cell phones. I had no one to call until the news flashed Pittsburgh. Then the panic felt more rightfully mine.

And so it began. The fear. The war. The changes in airport security. I wonder if we could compare ourselves now to ourselves then, if the contrast would be very striking. Like a photograph that shows you all the little things that have added up. You don’t notice your body changing shape or your hair growing from one day to the next — but after weeks, months, years, you might hardly recognize yourself.

I don’t mean to sound jaded or melodramatic. I don’t think we’re broken. But I think we were damaged, we were dealt a heavy blow, and we’ve been trying to heal ever since. Last night was — could be — hopefully is — a turning point in that recovery.

I’m sure the road ahead of us is still long, but today I can’t help looking back and marveling at how far we’ve come.

Also, I know it’s cliché — a writer’s worst enemy, normally — but I do sincerely want to thank our service men and women for all that they do. Andy’s younger brother is on his first tour as a Marine right now, and that has put a lot of things in sharp perspective for me. May he, and all our loved ones, be safe.

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  1. Les

    Well said. I can’t relate as much because I was living in Canada at the time, obviously.

  2. It was 1st period French for me. It’s strange – sometimes 9/11 feels like it was yesterday, sometimes like it was a lifetime ago.

    As for recovery, I think most of us were pretty jaded about the whole “War on Terror,” especially after years of mismanagement and coverups. Last night, though, people were dancing in the street. That’s got to mean something.

  3. Great post, K. I was stuck at home w/ a baby and tried to make calls to loved ones. No one was home. :/
    I had one cousin in Manhattan. She was taking her 6 week old to his first doctor’s appointment. She was 3 blocks from ground zero. Her sister lived in DC but was not near the pentagon.
    I remember when I finally got through to my aunt- both cousins were ok but my uncle, who is in finance, knew approximately 175 of the people that perished.
    I kept the paper from that day. I wondered if that was what the attack on Pearl Harbor felt like.
    But the hope of a peaceful world in our future is still stronger than my fears. I guess that’s why I like Star Trek so much! I’m looking forward to the Federation of Planets. (That and the fact the money will be useless b/c we have no need for it anymore.)

  4. Valerie-
    Before I respond to anyone else, I just have to say “YES, LOL!” to your Star Trek comments. That’s exactly how I feel too, about both the peace and the money, and probably part of why I’m such a Trekkie. TNG the most, but DS9 and VOY too.

  5. Wonderfully said… fortunately no one close to me (that I know of) was injured on 9/11 but I will never forget how intense that day at school was. It was so eerie.

  6. I don’t know how I feel yet. Everyone has their story/connection and our voices together are what matter to me. There’s truth in that.

  7. Well put, Kristan. A lot has changed in the last 10 years, but I will always remember that day as if it was yesterday. Our country will never be the same.

  8. Joelle

    It’s was weird hearing about it again in my son’s history class this year. I keep forgetting it’s a part of history, it doesn’t seem like it happened long ago enough to be considered ‘history’.

  9. Julia

    Sometimes, I feel like I’ve spent too many years in the wrong part of history. I remember sitting on my father’s lap when President Kennedy was murdered. And our cleaning lady unplugging the vacuum and crying when Robert Kennedy was murdered. And the jokes we made about dodging bullets when a sniper started killing people on Interstate 80. And the utter disbelief when a federal building in Oklahoma City exploded. And the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when two teenagers walked into their high school, armed with an impressive arsenal and killed everything that moved. By the time the twin towers fell, we were already drowning in sadness. 9/11 just threw rage on top of it.

  10. Les-
    Actually, I’d be very curious what it was like for you up there. What Canada felt/thought. Like Sarah said, everyone has their story or connection, and it’s the patchwork quilt of our voices that matters.

    I agree it means something, though perhaps we won’t know what that something is for years to come.

    “Intense” is a very good word for it.

    I’d be curious to know your perspective, if you ever find it. :) I agree completely about the voices together (as I mentioned above to Les).

    I know what you mean, although I think we also all knew by the end of that day that it would go down in history books. It’s simultaneously old and fresh, as Simon said.

    It’s sickening, when you add it up like that. But I don’t think history will ever be able to avoid these kinds of tragedies, unless mankind changes drastically.

  11. I don’t really want to get into the “things have changed” “where were you” “now we have closure” part of this discussion. But what I found really amazing was something I saw on ESPN Sportscenter tonight. (That’s right!) They were showing clips from last night’s Phillies game, which was still going when the news that Bin Laden had been killed was released. The crowd started chanting USA USA, and what I found interesting about it is them panning the crowd, showing EVERYONE looking at their smartphones, undoubtedly getting the news via social media (twitter, facebook, whatever). INSTANTLY. The sportscaster calling the game said that no more than 3-4 minutes went by from when he was told that Bin Laden had been killed to when the chant of USA started.

    So I guess this is a “how things have changed” post, but it’s not about 9/11 changing anything (or Bin Laden’s death). As few as five years ago, how long would it have taken for the crowd to find out and respond? Would they have even been able to respond? They more likely would have found out in a trickle as opposed to simultaneously, and that simultaneous discovery was what prompted the chant. Seeing the crowd chanting USA so quickly was the most palpable demonstration of how social media has penetrated our society of anything I’ve seen.

  12. Trisha

    I don’t think we were damaged. Terrorism occurs in other countries on a regular basis. I think we were just forced to face reality. It doesn’t always happen ‘over there.’ It can happen here too.

  13. Sonja-
    Hah, I saw that on ESPN too! And yes, the rise in social media is astounding. As a matter of fact, I first learned of bin Laden’s demise through Twitter. (Then confirmed via CNN and WhiteHouse.gov.) And months ago, I followed the Giffords shooting through Twitter, and before that, the UT gunman saga. It’s an amazing world we live in…

    I might argue then that other countries are damaged on a regular basis… But you’re right about not being able to say “not here, not us” anymore. We sure can’t.

  14. Jon

    I still remember my Spanish teacher in second period who insisted on teaching while we watched the towers fall. What a surreal day.

    Great post.

  15. Thanks, Jon. To give your teacher the benefit of the doubt, I think a LOT of people didn’t understand what was going on — how could we comprehend, you know? — and then of course, some just didn’t want to.

  16. 1) I never question decisions people made at that time. Keep doing what you’re doing, stay, run, it was a situation nobody had faced before and people did the best they could. My supervisor called and told me to stay put, and I decided my team and I would leave (we were very close to the site). I don’t blame her (by the time we got outside, she was outside, too), any more than I blame the principal at Stuyvesant High School who kept the kids inside the building when they should probably have evacuated. My main memory of people’s reactions was that people tried to help each other, tried to do the best they could.
    2) I really liked this blog post:

  17. Anthony, funny that you mention Stuy. My friend was a sophomore there at the time, and he didn’t mention how long he was required to stay put, but he did tell me about wandering the streets with his two friends afterward, walking home all the way to Queens, and all the dust and debris that floated around them.

    Thanks for the link and your comments. I agree completely that people did the best they could; it was unprecedented.

  18. Thank you for reminiscing, Kristan. Two of my brothers were US Military in active duty in Iraq/Afghanistan. They are commemorating this day in history with great fanfare…to say the least.

  19. I know this will sound odd, but Bin Laden’s death didn’t seem all that significant to me. I heard about it on the morning news and was content to hear the details and move on with my day. It didn’t stir up any real emotion in me.

    But maybe part of that is because of the way I heard the news??? Hearing it during the morning news made it just another news story. If the news of Bin Laden’s death had broken into my day — intruded into my day — maybe it would have seemed more stunning?

  20. My previous comment was incomplete.

    I can’t compare Bin Laden’s death to how I felt on 9/11. That morning I was working at Scholastic Book Fairs, holding a workshop full of teachers and librarians who started getting calls on their cell phones. None of us could make sense of the messages, so we went on with our workshop and then saw the recap of the planes flying into the towers. It was surreal. At that point most of us panicked, anxious to run immediately to the schools and pick up our children, but most of the schools were on lockdown. Shocked and stunned, my friend Mary Ann coaxed me into having lunch with her while we worried and waited. Shortly afterward, the anthrax scares began.

    So you’re right, Kristan, that we probably all have ‘before’s’ and ‘after’s’ in relation to 9/11. I don’t know that my world and my pysche can ever go back to Before-9/11. And Bin Laden’s death didn’t help to resolve that at all.

  21. M.E.-
    I thank your brothers for their service.

    I agree we can’t ever go back to Before. I think some people (myself included) just hope/believe this could (keyword: COULD) be a step toward a different, better After.

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