I was awakened sometime after 9:03 AM. My college roommate’s cell phone kept ringing, although she was in a class. When that wasn’t answered, her room phone rang, and it went on like that for a few cycles. Finally I got up and grabbed one of them, knowing it could only be her boyfriend (whom I didn’t like) calling. Only he could be that persistently annoying, especially at this time of the morning. “She’s not here,” I said bluntly, tired and irritated.
“Turn on the TV. Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center towers,” he replied without preamble.
I turned on her TV and was greeted with the image we now all have etched in our memories. Two towers. Two smoking holes. I sat down on her bed in shock. I don’t remember the rest of that conversation, but it was brief.
All my other roommates were eventually gathered in our common room, watching on that TV. A side camera was on one of the towers as a newscaster talked when it started shifting, moving. “Is that–oh my god. Oh my god, I think that tower’s falling,” I stammered, completely stunned. This was not something any of us there in that room had even thought could happen.
And whether we knew it or not in those moments, I think that shocked feeling that pervaded in everyone that day was the feeling, knowing, that the world had changed forever. And not for the better. Things were different now. Darker.
I cannot fathom the kind of terror people in the buildings and planes must have felt. I cannot fathom the hatred that drove those responsible to imagine, plan, an execute this plan, to kill over 3,000 people they did not know and had not ever met, in the space of just a few hours. I can empathize with but not fully know the grief of those who lost a loved one. I suppose that makes me lucky, that I have a certain distance from this tragedy.
But any amount of distance doesn’t change that hollow feeling, however large or small, that I get when I think about 9/11. Because it’s an incredibly complicated flood of feelings about that day, about what happened then, and what’s happened since. “Tragedy” truly is the only word that can, on its own, describe all of it. But it’s still much more than that at the same time.
I suppose my point is… well, I wasn’t planning to write this. I’ve kind of avoided writing about 9/11 when it’s come up in various places recently, because I feel its something words cannot accurately describe. Words can do a lot of things, but they cannot capture this. It cannot be contained by words alone. It’s a day, a tragedy, an event, a series of events, that are better portrayed in the images that we cannot forget, in the tears we feel when we are faced with it again, the hollow loss when we know the world was forever altered in those moments.
The memorial that they are opening today at the site of the World Trade Center is beautiful. It’s extremely well-done–conception to execution. That the names are grouped by association, friends and rescuers next to one another forever, remembered with the people they knew, the people who not only died with them but more importantly lived with them. The falling water, the footprints of the towers, and finally the second waterfalls, the inner ones, that descend into an empty darkness.