12 years ago.
It was my first day of teaching college English. I didn’t turn on the news. I was focused on getting ready for that morning class. First one ever. Breathless, I dashed to the humanities building, trailing papers and pencils in a blaze of enthusiasm and desperation. Reached the building, walked into the English Dept atrium, found everyone milling about with pale faces. Walked up to the secretary.
“Did I miss something?”
“Someone flew a plane into the tower.”
“Oh.” Staring at her. “Well. That’s…that’s something.” Shock setting in. “A plane?”
I was trying to find out if she was serious.
At which point I walked off numbly toward the TVs and those horrific images of fire and death. And I kept thinking: This is a science-fiction movie. This isn’t real. Who the hell did this?
I remember the horror, the anger, and also the incredible gratitude I felt when I watched images later that night of people holding vigil around the world — Christians in London and Rome and Berlin, Muslims in Lebanon and Pakistan and Iran, people on every continent grieving with us. I have never forgotten that.
I remember the horror and the promise of that moment, when for the briefest time, national, ethnic, political, and religious borders were forgotten (by all but an angry few) in the common need to comfort each other in that moment of human suffering and loss.