September 11, 2001. I was a student at Indiana University. When I walked into my astronomy class that morning, I was a few minutes late, and the lecture was underway. My astronomy class was held in one of those big lecture halls in Swain East, with the seats sloping steeply down from the back of the room, and a huge projection screen on the front wall.
As I took my seat, I saw a hastily handwritten notice projected onto the screen: "The Dean of Students has announced that classes will continue today as usual." Well, why wouldn't they? I wondered to myself. During the rest of class, I speculated as to what could have prompted such an announcement. I concluded that someone must have died, perhaps the president of IU, or Bobby Knight.
At the end of class, as everyone stood up and started collecting books and papers, one of the associate instructors plugged something in and a movie started to play on the front wall. In the movie, skyscrapers were collapsing in slow motion in huge billowing clouds of flames and smoke. That's impressive, I thought, but why are they playing a movie, here, now?
I grabbed the first passing student. "What's going on?" I asked. "What's that?" I gestured towards the screen at the front of the room.
"We've been attacked. Some terrorists hijacked some planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center," he told me, shakily. I looked back at the screen in shock. (Just imagine, if you will, that the first time you heard about 9/11 was as you watched it happen in an IMAX theater. That's how it felt.) As I watched in horror, an airplane plunged into the side of a tower, then again, from another angle. I felt a little dizzy (dizziness enhanced by the steep slope of the room). It couldn't be real.
I left and walked around campus feeling disoriented. The campus was strangely empty and quiet. In the common areas on campus, usually packed with students studying, eating, or napping on the couches, there were only a few people, huddled around TVs on black carts that someone had wheeled out of storage, watching the news channels replaying the same horrifying video clips over and over again. Ironically, it was a beautiful fall day, crisp and cool, the sun shining brilliantly.
Most of the people I saw looked dazed. Some were crying.
That afternoon I talked to my friend, an international student from Bangladesh. He was holed up in his room at his fraternity and frantically trying to reach a relative who worked in the twin towers [she turned out to be okay]. He mentioned matter-of-factly that he and other Desi friends would have to stay out of sight for a while. I didn't get it. "Why?" I asked. "Why do you think?" he replied. "I mean, hello, look at me. Brown skin? Black hair?"
I thought he was being paranoid. Surely no one would be so stupid as to assume, based on his appearance, that his sympathies lay with the terrorists. Needless to say, I was being naive. He told me about a Pakistani friend who wore a headscarf. She had been harassed and threatened by a group of men who had shouted, among other things, "Go home."
As I think back over the days and months surrounding 9/11, one thing that stands out in my mind is how Americans came together after the tragedy. I was really moved to read about how people lined up for blocks to donate blood, and how people from around the country volunteered to help in any way they could. I felt that we were united in grieving 9/11. I even felt (briefly) united with and proud of President Bush. In this day and age, I think it's easy to feel that you have little in common with the people around you (and I'm sure we could discuss for ages why that's so) but after 9/11, for a short while, we were all Americans together.
Soooo...tell me your story. Where were you on 9/11? What stands out in your mind as you remember that day and the weeks around it?