12 Years Ago

I was walking to my first class of the day, American Literature I think it was. I distinctly remember thinking how oddly quiet it was, and I took note of how many people I saw on their cellphones. Most of whom were crying. My first thought? Break-ups. College was drama, so I chalked it up to love lost. I had no idea how right I was.

My professor thought he was a closeted homosexual; he either ignored the fact or was sincerely oblivious to everyone knowing the truth. He was very passionate about literature and I could listen to him talk for hours. But on this day, 12 years ago, he started class seated at his desk with his head in his hands. He wasn’t doing a very good job of covering the tears that streamed down his cheeks, and most of us pretended not to notice because it was kinda weird to address a grown man crying right there in the middle of class. Some of the moron jocks joked that the professor’s boyfriend had broken up with him; others hoped he would forget about the 10-page essay that was due. I just really wanted to hug him.

A few minutes into class, and we were all still sitting there having accomplished nothing but idle chatter. Then the English Department secretary came into our room, handed our professor a note, and left. He opened it, read it, and immediately turned on the television. There, we saw the images of an airplane exploding into a building.

My initial reaction was it was an accident. A piloting error.

And then the next building was hit.

And then I knew. We all knew.

Our professor told everyone to go home and hug the ones we loved.

I immediately called my dad who is the best at explaining “the big picture” stuff in a way I can understand it. Despite his honorable efforts, I just kept screaming into the phone, “WHY DO THEY HATE US SO MUCH?!” I was 21 years-old, and couldn’t wrap my naïve, immature brain around such vile hatred. I almost wish I could say the same today.

In 12 years, we have learned a lot as a country, but we’ve also lost a hell of a lot as a people. Yet we’ve remained united in the face of fear and subsequent human indignity. Fear and racism and stereotyping are still among us, but so is hope and faith and acceptance. I am going to spend today remembering and celebrating the good in people because hate is a powerful danger, but not nearly as powerful as love.


“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches


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  1. Jumpin' Jack Flash says:

    I recall that day clearly as well. I was a first year teacher, in my 2nd full week of school. People were chirping about something and many teachers stopped class and put on their TV’s. As a “rookie,” I was afraid I’d get in trouble for not “providing a quality educational experience for 43 minutes each and every day” as my principal demanded. So I just had “the show must go on” approach and taught some Algebra 1 kids how to simplifying algebraic expressions. Pretty soon the PA system began coming on every 15 seconds “would tim smith please come to the office for an early dismissal.” After an hour of this, the school finally decided to send everyone home. Anyway – nice piece of writing. Focus on the good that is out there.

  2. I, too, was walking into a classroom, but it was to teach.

    I know we’ll all remember what we were doing that day, and in the years that have passed since, I always, always think about those people who devastatingly lost loved ones that day. I will be praying for them most of all today.

  3. I will never forget the day and I had just gone back to college to finish up my bachelor’s degree. For a few years, I had worked in a local brokerage house helping brokers with their trades and such. I was going to be transferred to the NYC downtown office, but decided last minute I really just wanted to complete my degree work full time and opted not to quit my job to pursue this. I remember driving to school that morning and listening to z100 and they were saying one of the towers got hit by a plane. I really thought they were joking, because they always did a prank call part of the morning show and thought this was it. I went into school and similar to you found out by another student getting a call on his cell phone. Seeing the footage was awful, but for me seeing the photos of the towers afterwards really hit home, because it finally dawned on me that I would have been working down there and taking the subway into the towers where I would get off and then walk one block to the office. I realized in that moment that I could have totally been in the middle of all of this had I taken that job transfer. I am not kidding when I say I just remember crying so hard out of fear that I really somehow escaped being in the middle of it all. Sorry for the long comment, but still will never forget this.

    • These stories are so surreal to me; it seems like too many of us have had those “so close yet so far” experiences with 9/11. You could have been downtown; a friend’s husband could have been on a flight; while some of us were so fortunate, it’s hard to think of how so many others were not. xo

  4. Reading your memories of that horrifying day remind me of my own experience. I still feel the confusion, the fear, and the disillusionment, but I also feel the support, the bravery, and the love.

  5. My mother is flying today. And I feel ill every time I think about it…

  6. I was TEACHING American lit at that exact time. I walked out to get some copies made for my students. A fellow teacher stopped me to tell me the World Trade Center had been hit…that they thought it was terrorists. My eyes were wide, and I innocently asked, “What’s the World Trade Center?” Boy did I learn a lot after that.

    Went back into my classroom and just stared at my juniors who had no clue — we didn’t have TVs in our rooms then. I just continued class. I didn’t know what else to do. I’d been told to keep it quiet.

    They left my room when the bell rang and everyone else knew. To this day, I regret not being the adult voice that talked to them about the incident. So much fear and panic was rolling through the school, and my 19 kids had no clue.

    I spent the rest of the day taking my classes to Yahoo for searching in the first few minutes of class. Then, I carried on as usual. Again, not sure what to do. My sophomores were reading Ibsen’s “A Doll House.”

    I will literally never forget.

    • It’s crazy the precise details we remember, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your memories, Mama!

      • Lisa Feeney says:

        I was actually visiting my aunt with my Mom is Arkansas and was just leaving for the airport THAT morning. My uncle called from work to tell us what had happened. I have never felt so uncertain of things in my life – immediate panic set it. I raced outside and just started praying like I’d never prayed before. Such an horrific act of hatred.

  7. I was at home with my parents. I turned to my dad to tell me what was going on, too. I remember him being SO angry. Very few times in my life has my father’s reaction to something made me scared. He has always been the calm one. He has always been the level headed one. That day, though, he cried and screamed at the television. He swore at people he didn’t know and I clearly remember the anger. My mother and I had different reactions. We cried. We cried for all of the people who weren’t going to be at the dinner table that night. It was something I will never forget. It is something I hope my children NEVER need to experience.

  8. I was in my college Early Childhood Literature class – was a small class, but we had no clue anything had happened! Huge college like PSU and we were clueless, was strange in a way! Was around 10:30am and my friends boyfriend came into class and said they had to leave (both of their dad’s worked very close to the pentagon), he couldn’t figure out why we were still having our class going on, and the teacher asked why and wasn’t going to let her go, and that’s when he looked at the teacher like she was crazy and said yes we are, pulled the teacher and his girlfriend to the hallway and explained what was going on. She came back in, relayed the info to us, put the TV on so we could watch the news coverage and get caught up on what was happening. We were dismissed from class whenever we wanted to leave at that point and all the rest of our classes for the day were cancelled.

  9. I was sitting at my desk listening to my coworker hammering in an office addition that the company was putting in (our IT guy was a jack of all trades LOL)–he had the radio on and we were already busy bees at work. I was freshly engaged (When I say fresh I mean it! 9/8/2001 was the day Jim popped the question) I remember what I was wearing that day and who was there with me. I can vividly remember the moments leading up to hearing the news. Two hammer thuds from across the room and then my co-worker poking his head through plastic separating the workspace from the dust of renovations and asking “did you hear that?” “What, your hammering? Yes I hear it.” I answered. He quickly corrected me. We ran to another room in the office where there was a small tv set with a VCR that we used to show training videos on. We pulled up the antennaes and tuned in. Through the snow on the TV we watched the second plane collide and our world stopped. After the news of the crash in Shanksville we ran outside to scan the clear skies for planes. I half expected to see a plume of smoke rising from the rolling hills in front of us. We weren’t too far from Shanksville. But we saw nothing. All was eerily quiet. I called my mom. I remember thinking that this was it–the beginning of the end. I remember nothing else of the remainder of the week except tears, being at first riveted to the television and then numbly turning away from it. It was so much to take and everything EVERYTHING was different. Forever.

    • I definitely looked up at the skies, too, Christine. I don’t know what I expected to see since I was in Clarion, nowhere near anything that had happened. I just felt like a moving target and hated that I no longer felt safe. xo

  10. “I am going to spend today remembering and celebrating the good in people because hate is a powerful danger, but not nearly as powerful as love.” Amen, friend. You have a gorgeous gift with words.

  11. I was teaching that day and learned about what had happened during morning recess. I had to get through the day without mentioning it to the kids, so they wouldn’t panic. I was teaching in a suburb of Boston, and we knew that there was a big chance that someone from our community was on those planes. (There were.) My principal finally gave a confusing, panic-inducing announcement at the end of the day. I had to face a room full of tearful, scared sixth graders. I knew that this was a horribly historic day, and that these kids would always remember — like our parents and grandparents did when they found out that President Kennedy had been shot — this moment. I tried to be calm, reassuring, and to answer their questions as honestly as I could. Thank you so much for this post.

    • Thank YOU for being the kind of teacher who, when thrown into a difficult position like that, comes through with flying colors for our students. I am sooooooo sorry to learn that people from your community were on the planes. xo

  12. Beautifully said, my friend. What a story… but I most love your message. Amen to LOVE. And that quote is a keeper…

  13. I never understood how people could recall exactly what they were doing at specific moments in time until that happened. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday. I also remember that my daughter was an infant and how terrified I was of the world we brought her in to. However, despite the horrific tragedy, it’s amazing how much love and compassion we also saw in the days…months…years that followed. The unity is something I like to remember during what feels like such a divisive time.

    • Very scary to have had a new baby during that time. I think all parents are uneasy about the dangers of the world, but to have an infant at that exact time would have been so hard :( But you’re right, Meredith: unity and compassion–that’s our focus!

  14. I was at work and my dad called me to tell me what was happening. He was on the other side of the world at the time, so it was nighttime for him, and I figured he’d gotten into the sauce or was calling me in his sleep because what he was saying made NO SENSE. And then I walked over to my manager’s office and she had the radio on and then I knew…

    You have a way with words, my friend. This is a beautiful post…


  15. Well said, Bloggy friend. Hate truly is a burden too great to bear. It takes too much work to hold on to. I was teaching third grade that fateful day. In walked outside to get something and saw my neighbor. He told me one of the towers blew up. I went in and watched the news. Then I went to work soon after, prepared to hold kids who knew and navigate awkward questions for those who didn’t. I never felt more unprepared and more ill equipped as a teacher. But in the end, I reminded myself that I didn’t know why but I would fight to hold in to love.


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