of course I remember where I was that morning. Like most 20 somethings on the East Coast I was desperately trying to ignore the sunlight coming into the window in my dorm room. I was groggily trying to figure out why my phone was ringing. I hadn’t set my alarm, I didn’t have a morning class. It was my mom. Now, when you get a call on a tuesday morning just after the start of your second year of university, something is going on. Mom insisted that I turned on the television. Luckily I had one in the room because the roommate had a TV, but we hadn’t gotten the cable hooked up yet so it was a fuzzy picture on channel 3 or 6 or 9 that I got in. Something was going on in new York. I couldn’t really tell what. Mom had to go, but now that I was up and watching tv, she felt a bit better. My parents always had that opinion that if there was history on, I had better be watching it. I’m grateful for that for the most part.
The picture quality was really crap and my brain wasn’t fully processing what had happened yet, just that something had flown into the world trade center. Well ok, that’s happened before. One of the flatmates came into the dorm suite talking about something happening in DC, but again, still half asleep university student. I remember wanting breakfast. I mean if you’re going to be up at this ungodly hour in the morning, you should at least have some food in your system. So I got dressed and headed over to the campus center, turning off the tv in my bedroom just after the second plane hit. Still, not quite registering anything other than I wanted Mike (the grill guy in the food court) to make me some pancakes. Dude made wickedly awesome pancakes. And maybe a fried egg. Seriously, guy was good at his job. So I walk downstairs, well ok, I lie. I took the elevator because I was living on the 7th floor and I’m not a very active person at this age. Even today I would take the elevator for 7 flights of stairs. All of the security guards on the front desk and the staff from the housing office are gathered around a TV behind the desk, their mouths open and their eyes wide. But for me, all I want is pancakes.
So I trudge my body across the street to the campus center and there I run into Mike T from the theatre. Now Mike and I have worked together in the theatre for a bit, and we had some summer classes together, we’re both english majors and he’s cute. Of course he’s destined to become my best friend at University, but that all happens later. He asks me if I know what happened, I mumble something about a plane flying into the Twin towers and I was going to get some pancakes. Holy crap, I really wanted those pancakes. So I offered to buy Mike some coffee and maybe breakfast (He was a commuter so he’d been conscious for at least a bit, but not yet awake since he’d only had two cups of coffee so far). So we walk into the campus center and are stunned at what we see. Everybody is standing around the ‘Pit”, a large area that looks down from the main floor of center onto the lower floor in a kind of mezzanine type fashion. Down in the Pit there’s a big screen TV. And this big screen TV is blasting in full color and sound that which I could barely see on my little tv back in the dorm room. The Towers were both hit (Had I seen a second plane?) and they were both smoking and fire, and holy crap was that a body? And then it happened.
I was standing around the pit, my soon to be best friend at my side, surrounded by the other students of this urban campus of every color, religion, background, gender and we all stood and silently watched as the towers fell. Well, the first one was met with silence, and then the crying started. And we stood there, our eyes glued onto the television, still not believing what we were seeing. This was some new viral marketing campaign for some new movie. Next thing was Toby Maguire was going to swoop into the shot as Spiderman and save the day and the joke was going to be on all of us. No. The second tower fell and the place went numb. Oh sure, there were people cursing, swearing, nobody could believe what had just happened. We were staring in shock, stunned into silence and tears. I think i might have grabbed hold of Mike’s hand or arm, but I don’t remember. I also don’t remember how long we all stood there for, but I know what snapped us out of it.
Cal M, the campus’s events coordinator and head of Student Life stepped out in front of the big screen TV down in the pit. At first there were yells at him to move, we needed to see what was happening in the world, but he quieted us down and informed us that as of right now, there were more planes in the air and nobody knew where they were or where they were going. Our campus was right across the river from Philadelphia. On a good day from the 10th floor, you could look across the river and see old William Penn pissing on the city. If they had attacked New York, what was to stop them from attacking the Liberty Bell? Independence Mall? The Naval Yard? We were all told in no uncertain terms to go home. If you lived on campus, go to the dorms. If you lived off campus, go home. If you lived on campus, but had someplace else to go, go there. But we were not to stay on campus, classes were cancelled and the school was shut.
I never got my pancakes.
I remember going back to the dorms, and gathering up some clothes, telling my flatmates that school was closed and that I was going to Jimmy’s house. I passed on Cal’s message of “don’t be an idiot” to my flatmates, grabbed my cell phone (a delightful virgin mobile prepay) and headed out the door. I climbed into my car and started calling Jimmy’s house. His mom answered and I told her to wake Jim up and plop him in front of the television, I was coming home. I had just the one last stop to make before getting there. For a few months, since April, I had been working part time at one of the grocery stores near Jimmy’s house as a cashier. Well, we weren’t so much working as we were on strike, and had been for about two weeks at this point. I wanted to make sure the people on the picket line knew what was going on. They did, so I headed to Jimmy’s parents place. I found him, and his mom, on the couch watching the television. He was still in his pajamas and his hair was still in that awful state of bedhead that just was unfixable. I dropped my bag in the kitchen and went and sat down.
I don’t remember really much else of that day, other than watching Television. I can’t remember when it was revealed that the terrorists were arabs and not Timothy McVeigh back from the dead to live in my nightmares again. I remember being confused, scared, and uncertain. I remember sitting in that living room, watching the television until it became too late to stay awake. And then waking up the next day and going back to the television. I also remember the days after “That Day”. I remember going back to campus and listening to the angry Wrath of America and God speeches from my theatre mentor. I remember all of our muslim and arabic students walking around campus in groups, for their own protection. I remember the signs, and the posters. And I remember that moment when the first plane in three days flew over the campus, and everybody stopping, staring, and forgetting how to breathe.
I remember going to the picket line a few days later, on the weekend. I remember the people who had only a week before been bringing us coffee and pizza and sandwiches were now driving by, cursing at us, spitting at us, throwing water balloons and trash and whatever else they could hurl out of their vehicles at us. I remember the yelling, the angry, high-pitched screaming confrontations of people who thought we were being selfish because so many people had died. I remember the cashier with the voice of an angel standing with a bullhorn near her mouth and singing the National Anthem and every other patriotic song she could think of while being screamed at for being lazy and a whore. I remember the huge American flags at half staff and attached to cars, being run ragged and tearing to shreds in the high-speed world of the interstates. I remember classes starting up again, and the professors saying their pieces and then starting to lecture. I remember starting work on the next show at the theatre, and I remember going to my dorm every night, thankful for the lack of a television. And I remember the footage.
But I think that this is where I have to diverge from a normal “I remember” post. I remember all of this, I recall it all as though it were yesterday. But gladly, thankfully, it wasn’t. No. It was ten years ago. My god I can’t believe that it was ten years ago. The pain of that morning is still there, the terror of watching those buildings fall, the anger that was everywhere around, and the uncertainty, they’re all still there. But as with most things in life, with most grief, the pain is less sharp. There is still a tang of bitterness in my mouth, but it’s not the overwhelming searing ache that it used to be. And, it was ten years ago. Look at me, where I am now.
If you had asked me ten years ago where I would be today, let me tell you how different the answer would be. I would have been Rabbi Sarah Priest. A Jewish woman married to a Roman Catholic man who had gone to seminary school and was a Rabbi. I would have been married eight years by now, and probably have had two kids. We would have been living in some city, probably philadelphia and I would have a synagogue that I ran and still done work for a local theatre. Had you asked me about my future on September 10, 2001, that’s probably what you would have been told.
But here it is, September 10th, 2011 and I am not a Rabbi. I am not married to a Roman Catholic man with the last name of Priest. I have no children, and I am not in Philadelphia. I’m in new Zealand, with a man that I love and he loves me. He’s not religious, and I’m more spiritual than Religious as it is. There are no children, and no plans for any in the immediate future. This was never where my life was ever going to go back then, but my god am I glad it did.
So yes, I remember. and yes, I feel the remembrance deep in my heart and in my body. No, I don’t think I will ever forget where I was on that morning, or the sequence of events, or the fact that I never did get those pancakes. But I will also remember that for better or worse that day shaped my country, my family, my friends, and my life and all of that together with all of who I am has led me to be here. In a country that I love as much as my own, with a man I love as much as life, and happy for the first time in about ten years.
For the first anniversary of this horrible day and thing, I can say that I will be better than I was on that day. I will be happier than I was. I will be ok.
I can still remember without being depressed. I can still honor the fallen without wallowing in misery, and I can still live my life as I want to because even though it was a tragedy, life does go on.
God bless those who were killed, God bless those who showed up to help. God bless those who are still struggling to find a place in this new world, and God bless those who are sick and dying because they did show up. God bless the United States of America, and God bless this beautiful world.
And God Bless You.