Thursday, September 11, 2014

When the World Stopped Turning

It is the "where were you when JFK was shot?" of my generation. One of the scariest, most truly unbelievable days that will occur during my lifetime. It happened during time of change, of learning in my life. On September 11, 2001 I was a few weeks into my freshman year of college. My world had completely changed. I went from a high school senior to a college freshman, living on my own for the first time in my life. I was still feeling college out, trying to find my place among the other undergrads at Duquesne University, a private Catholic college in downtown Pittsburgh. 

I was on my way to class, when I stopped at a friend's dorm room, so that we could walk to our class together. He told me that a plane hit the World Trade Center. What a horrible accident, I immediately thought. Never once in my naive mind did I consider terrorism. I don't think I fully understood what that even was. I had never heard of Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda. We made our way to class and found our professor, a man of the Jewish faith with ties to New York City, in tears. He had family in the WTC, and a second plane had just hit. He cancelled class in a daze. So there we sat, a class full of 18 year old college students, sitting speechless in a room, trying to process what was happening. 

I went back to my dorm to watch the news footage, and was met with the information that all of our dorms were being evacuated. Evacuated. The word still lingers on my tongue. Why in the world would they be evacuating dormitories at a private college in Pittsburgh?  Because they were all many stories tall, that's why. We were herded to academic walk, to wait outside until the evacuation was cleared. They brought out free food, wheeled out a TV so we could watch the news coverage. Some people went home to their parents or to other family members. Others, like me, stuck it out. I couldn't get a consistent cell phone signal to reach my family anyway. 

The irony of the beauty of that day, the bright blue sky and late summer sun, was painfully evident during those hours of waiting. On a normal day, students would be seen sitting on benches, highlighting textbooks or chatting with a friend.  But that day. there was none of that. The mood was somber, hearts were heavy. Being a Catholic college, many students made their way to the chapel to spend time in thoughtful prayer. 

Eventually the evacuation was lifted. We filed back to our dorm rooms, in a stunned daze. It sunk in that Shanksville was hit, only an hour or so away from Pittsburgh. Did that plane fly over Duquesne that day?  I felt as though I had been in danger. That we all had been in danger. 

I remember going to bed that night, and looking out my dorm room window and seeing the skyscrapers of downtown Pittsburgh. I remember praying that those buildings would all still be there when I woke up the next day. 

I cannot believe it's been 13 years since that day. The wounds are so raw that I feel like it could have happened yesterday. I remember how I felt so strongly, so vividly.  And now, 13 years later, I have a daughter. This is my first September 11 as a mother. What happened that day scares me on a far more profound level than it ever has before. I don't ever ever ever want my daughter to feel the fear that I felt that day. I don't want terrorism or Al Qaeda or ISIS to ever cross her mind. I want her to live a happy, carefree, joyful life without moments of sadness or fear. All of those lost were someone's sons and daughters, just as Sabrina is my daughter. They did not deserve to lose their lives that day. Their loved ones do not deserve carrying the burden of that loss around for the rest of their lives. 

My most profound and most humble prayer today is for the families of those lost. It is my firm belief that the victims are enjoying eternity in paradise now, and unfortunately their families are still living their hell on earth, forever mourning their loss. I pray that they know in their hearts that they will be reunited loved ones one day, and I hope they can find some type of peace until then. 

God bless the victims, the families, the responders, the search and rescue teams, the police and fire companies who risked and gave their lives for others.  And as always, God Bless America. 

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