Every public area and countless homes in our small town are covered in American flags today. This is the front of ours.

September 11th was the first major “where-were-you-when” event of my generation. You know where you were, I'm sure. You’ve remembered it every year for the past decade.

I was sleeping in my dorm room in Los Angeles. My roommate, Lauren, got a call from her dad around 6:00 a.m.—an extremely early hour for college students. Thoughtful roomie that she was, she went out into the hallway to answer it (something my thoughtless freshman-year roommate would have NEVER done, by the way). Through the 90-pound door, I could hear her freaking out. My stomach flipped and I woke up more fully—I thought surely something tragic had happened to one of her family members, so I started preparing myself to help her with whatever had happened.

She returned to the room. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!” she cried.

I’m not proud of my response: “Oh. Okay.” Not really understanding the scope of the problem and more focused on the fact that all her family members were alive and accounted for, I turned back over to go to sleep.

Lauren’s cell phone rang again. “The PENTAGON?” she shrieked. “A plane crashed into the PENTAGON?”

At this point, I shot out of bed. This was much, much bigger than I had realized.

Our country was under attack.

Still, rule-abiding student that I was, I went to my first class. I was one of very few, and Professor Wyatt dismissed us within a few minutes of arrival.

As I walked through the quad, feeling the need to do something but having no clue WHAT, a girl to my right was on the phone, hysterical. Both her parents worked in the Trade Center, apparently. She had yet to get a hold of them. (Eventually, she did. They were fine.) Another girl’s sister also worked at the Trade Center, but for some reason had felt strongly compelled to go to Starbucks and buy a blueberry muffin, thereby avoiding having ever entered the building. And she didn’t even like blueberry muffins.

That evening, I called home. I have no memory of talking to my parents, but I did speak to my brother.

"Are you watching the footage on TV?" he asked me.

"No." I lived in a dorm. I didn't have a TV. I  had seen parts on the TV in the dorm common room and the TV set up at dining area. But unlike so many, I hadn't spent hours and hours glued to the TV.

"People are jumping from the buildings," he said, in the smallest voice. "Ashley, they're just . . . jumping."

I attended the vigil on campus. I don’t remember much about it, other than the sun was setting, I worried about dripping wax from my candle, and a Muslim student who was so horrified by the attacks practically pleaded with students and profs that this is not Islam. This, at one of the most liberal, most “tolerant” colleges in the country. May will (or already did) tell me I was naive, but I believed his horror was sincere. It’s like when backward churches protest military funerals. You want to stomp your feet and insist, this is not Christianity. 

Almost a year after 9/11, I went to Ground Zero for the first time, during a visit to New York with my aunt and uncle. My aunt hung back, adamant that she didn’t want to go there, and I think she eventually just agreed to meet me elsewhere—probably Filene’s—but I had to see it. I had to walk past all the makeshift memorials and approach the railing and look DOWN into the enormous hole. I needed to better grasp the size, the scope, the hugeness of it.

In Arlington, Virginia, Chris’s first apartment looked out onto the Pentagon. The plane that crashed would have come in from the left. During the many times I sat out on his balcony, I thought about it. The space of air through which a plane deliberately plummeted and crashed to kill Americans was just right there, in front of us, all the time. It seemed impossible.

But 10 years ago today, like millions of Americans, I did what felt most comforting, most logical, most necessary. Before leaving for college one year earlier, the mom of a good friend had given me a book of prayers, each day with a verse and prayer of some sort. On September 11th, my soul was full of sorrow and my mind bare of words. I wanted something canned, pre-made, already nicely articulated—eloquence seemed to matter, I guess. So, I reached for that books and thought about the day. What day was it? Remember, 9/11 was not yet so nine-elevenish. I had to stop and think about the date.

September 11. I flipped to that part of the prayer book. I cried as I read the verse for that day—how had the book editors known? “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil: for Thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).

I wrote in the book “September 11, 2001,” so I’d remember the exact date—again, not realizing that 9/11 would be what this day would be called forever. It’s still there, on that page.


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