Where Were You When . . . ?

It’s a question we have a tendency to ask regarding important historical events. Where were you when you found out about Pearl Harbor? Where were you on the day JFK was assassinated? Where were you on 9/11?

As it turns out, there’s a whole site where people have left their stories of where they were on September 11, 2001. I scanned through several pages and picked a few that were most interesting to me.

“I lived in Jersey City in Avalon Bay directly across from the World Trade Centers. Every morning I would drop my daughter off at pre-school and then take the Path Train from Jersey City to WTC. I was working for an internet startup at the time located at 20 Exchange Place in the financial district. For whatever reason that day I was about 10-15 minutes early dropping my daugther off. I took the Path Train like normal and exited through the WTC and walked the 4-5 blocks to my office. As I walked into my office I heard the explosion of the first plane and saw our windows bow so much I can’t believe they didn’t shatter. . . . If I wasn’t early dropping my daughter off that day I would have been in the Towers when the first plane hit. I don’t know why I was early that day but I was.” –Jeff, Harwinton, CT

“It started off perfectly normal . . . got to work, got some breakfast and then got a phone call telling me to turn on a tv – one of the Twin Towers had been hit by a plane. Turned on a tv and could not believe what I was seeing/hearing. It was awful. . . . We were all gathered in the conference room debating what to do when the 3rd plane hit the other Tower. It took about an hour to decide we needed to leave DC. It was one of the most strange evacuations……eerily quiet for the numbers of folks in the street. Hardly any vehicles. It took me 4 hours to get home in the VA suburbs where we all hunkered down for a very quiet and somber 3 days. Heard no planes, traffic, blaring radios – nothing but quiet. We were in shock.” –Pam, Washington DC

“I was working as an administrative assistant at a Navy-contract shipyard in San Diego. I was one of relatively few employees with no military connection – many of the employees were National Guard, ex-Navy, and so forth. On Sept 11, I arrived at work early in the morning as usual. The office was very quiet, which was not usual. There were a few employees gathered around a radio in one office. They said something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, then went back to the radio. . . . I drove home in a daze, the traffic around me didn’t seem real. My fiance was home because he was at the time unemployed. We turned on CNN and watched for the rest of the day, even though much of the time it was just repeating footage when there were no new developments – just more billowing smoke, more people falling through the air. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t know what to say. The entire day was very quiet and very heavy. There was nothing for us to do.” –Sarah, Seattle, WA

“That night, my mom, brother, and I sat in my mom’s bedroom watching news coverage of the whole ordeal for about three hours. We generally lived like roommates, not like some close knit family that watches t.v. together at night. But that night, it felt necessary to just sit together and be together.” –Jenn, Houston, TX

“On September 11, 2001, I had just started my second year of pre-school. I was only 4 years old . . . . I still converse with those who were in my class at that time today, 13 years later. We are all 17 or 18 years old now, but we all distinctly remember that day. When others who are younger join in our discussions, they do not remember anything of the day as they were too young or they weren’t even born yet. But we remember very clearly what happened on September 11, 2001. We are the last who remember. We will never forget.” –Sarah, West Haven, CT

Like the girl in this last story, I was still very young when September 11 happened.

I was ten years old, and it was school picture day. My class of 5th graders was sitting in the hall, waiting until the photographer was ready for us, when we heard a group of teachers talking in the room next door.

“That looks pretty bad,” one of them said. The others agreed.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. Not even when our teacher explained what had happened to us at the end of the day did I really realize how horrific the event had been. The journal entry I wrote that night captures my understanding pretty well:

“A horrible, horrible thing happened today. My Dad said it’s worse then Pearl Harbor. Two jet planes ran into the trade centers in New York. 12,000 people are either injured or dead. Today was picture day at school. Also band, P.E., and our first library. It is Tuesday.”

But in the following days, as I heard the adults around me continue to talk and as I saw the headlines and heard the speeches, I started to grasp the significance, if only a little bit. Now, I look back and remember it not only as a time of becoming aware of the evil in the world but also of the miracle of forgiveness and loving our enemies.

September 11 2001

Not many events have this kind of impact, which is why I believe it’s important to take the time to remember the stories surrounding the events that do.

What about you—where were you? Leave a message in the comments below, or go to Where were you on 911? to tell your story there.

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