Note: Imported from my original blog, “Whereverthere: 3 friends, one blog.” Thanks to Charity Shumway and Erika Edwards for sharing these memories with me!
KRISTIN: For our generation 9/11 is the definitive “where were you on this day” moment. Unforgettable, and still unfathomable. Ten years has passed, but the memories are as vivid as smoke smell.
I was attending school at BYU and had been engaged to Shea less than a week before. I was
driving to work–I had an editing position on campus–and was listening to X96 Radio From Hell in the morning. Not where you expect to hear serious news. DJ Bill had just mentioned something about breaking news: a plane crashed into the world trade center. That is about all I caught and as I walked into work, I thought perhaps some freak accident had led a small time pilot towards a tragic, but minor fate. I logged onto my computer–one in a line of about ten computers hosting college students doing the same–when the overhead speakers came on, tuned into national news. In full detail, with no pictures, the story unfolded. We listened live as broadcasters tried to make sense of what was happening. We heard, actually heard people screaming. We heard the second plane hit. I remember one reporter saying “things are falling from the upper floors, My God! It’s people! People are jumping!!” I remember time stood still. I looked briefly to my side to see my coworkers with their mouths open and their hands hovering frozen over the home row keys of their keyboards, like they stopped mid-login to listen. Then I looked down to see my hands in the same stance. It was surreal.
I didn’t see actual footage until much later that day. I didn’t own a TV and caught snatches of coverage at neighboring apartments. It was like watching a horrible movie. Surely those were special effects. The emotions of the day were many and muddled. Shock. Fear. Horror. I don’t have to go on, you all remember. One emotion that stands out is my longing for Shea. This may sound insignificant. I was new to the idea that I would be with him forever. As ecstatic as I was to be engaged (The BYU dream, right?), the Mrs. concept was a little weird to me and hard to imagine. But as I listened to the incredible news of the Trade Centers, as I imagined moms and dads who went to work and never came home, as I felt the waves of broken hearts emanating from a city so far away, I longed to run into Shea’s arms and stay there. I wanted my family, which hadn’t even started yet, to be wrapped in a protective bubble far away from terror. Shea was attending school up at the University of Utah, and although he was only a 40 minute drive away, it felt like he was far, far away. 9/11 planted a seed in my heart that day….I hold my loved ones tight and resolve to express my love with every coming and going, good morning and goodnight.
Three days later, on what was declared a national day of mourning, I celebrated my 23rd birthday with my sweetheart.
ERIKA: In October 2007, my little brother joined me for a trip to New York City. A major priority for both of us was to visit Ground Zero. Of course, it was under heavy construction and you couldn’t really get a sense of anything at the actual site. But I wasn’t prepared for what I would see or feel once we entered the World Trade Center Tribute Visitor’s Center, which was housed in the former NYFD fire station across the street.
The thing is, I was on my mission from 2000-2002, and during that time my access to any sort of media was intentionally limited. While no one could really escape the tragedy and horror of that day, I had not been exposed to many of the images and stories that came out of it. So I took in, in one afternoon, what most people had already processed over a period of months or even years. I was overwhelmed in every way.
At the end of our visit, they gave us each a card to fill out that said, “Share your September 11th story. How have you been changed by the events of September 11th, or what action can you take in the spirit of Tribute to help or educate another?”
This was my response:
I was serving as an LDS (Mormon) missionary in Tallahassee, Florida at the time of the attacks. I saw the second plane hit live on television in a doctor’s office waiting room. That day, we didn’t go out to proselyte or visit people; but the next day, and for many days afterward we went out, knocking on people’s doors and asking if we could pray with them.
For a brief time, religious prejudices and intolerance were set aside, and we all prayed together. We prayed for those who died. We prayed for those who lived. We prayed for the families of the victims and heroes. We prayed for the leaders of nations.
We prayed for each other.
CHARITY: In 2001, I wasn’t yet living in New York. I was still in Boston, and I spent the day gathered around the television in a dorm room with friends. Most of these friends were from New Jersey, from a commuting suburb where parents took the train into the city every morning and came home every evening. The night of September 11th, late in the evening after the train station’s parking lot had mostly cleared out, one of these friend’s moms reported that there were still cars — one here, another there, two over by the light pole, another in the back. Terrible, ghostly indicators that the people who left them that morning weren’t coming back for them. That image has always stuck with me.
This weekend in New York is all about remembering. One of the memorials that strikes me as most poignant is an installation in Bryant Park: 2,753 empty chairs. It reminds me a little of that terrible parking lot.
I moved to New York in 2002, when September 11th was stills so fresh that there were guards armed with machine guns in all the major subway stations. I used to pass through Times Square every day, and I remember the fear. You’d get used to the machine guns and the searches, and then one day, something would jolt you out of it — like the day I could have sworn I smelled something strange and chemical — and there was that fear again, bristling and almost ungovernable. But we stayed safe day after day. And finally the armed guards left. And now, nearly a decade later, I can almost (almost but not quite) laugh at how scared I was by that smell. (People who are afraid of smells should not take New York City transit). Almost a decade later, I am very glad there aren’t armed guards in the subway anymore. So while I’m grateful for the chance to remember, to think back and to mourn, I am also grateful that we humans are able to forget. Not to forget completely, but to forget enough to carry on.