9/11 – 911 – Sept 11 – 11 Sept
I can’t believe it has been a full 8 years since September 11, 2001. It does feel like yesterday sometimes… and sometimes it feels like I saw it in a movie… wasn’t Will Smith in that one?
So in the spirit of the day, I will share my story.
September 11, 2001 – Jacksonville, Florida
I was a junior at Jacksonville University. It was like any other morning. I didn’t want to get up and go to my Theatre Design class. Hell, I just didn’t want to get up. I have a habit of waking up to my alarm, turning on the TV to the Today Show or CNN and falling back asleep. In my half-asleep state, I peeked through my eyelids and saw an image of smoke coming out of the World Trade Center. In my half-asleep state, my brain said, “Why are they showing file footage of ’93?”
Then I sat straight up in bed. This wasn’t fake. Matt Lauer was telling me that this was happening right NOW. I sat in my bed, bolt upright staring at my little dorm room/college apartment television, listening to Matt Lauer talk and watched the second plane hit the second tower. That is an image I can never forget. I sat in shock, disbelief, but faith that everything will be all right.
Once my shock wore off, I ran and woke my roommates. I kept one eye on the TV while I got dressed. I finally tore myself from the television and practically ran to the other side of campus, to the fine arts building where my class was. When I got there, the entire staff and all the students in class in that building were huddled around a tiny, tiny TV. I remember that it was smack dab in the middle of Mary’s office (she was the receptionist for the theatre and dance department) and students, faculty, deans were all huddled, some in folding chairs, some standing, some on the floor just… watching.
I don’t know how long I watched. Classes were, clearly, canceled for the day. JU attracts many students from the northeast and I watched my friends call home and ask about family and friends. Consequences weren’t setting in… it wasn’t real. The realities would come soon.
When we heard the Pentagon had been hit, it was a shock, sort of. I don’t think I had any more capacity to be shocked by that point. Until it hit me. The man I had been dating off and on was currently serving in the Air Force and he was stationed to be at the Pentagon on certain days. But which days? Come on Talia! Just remember what days was he supposed to be there. My brain lost its ability to function. Shock turned to fear. I tried to call him. No luck. No phone calls were going out. Phone lines were jammed. I had to be pulled aside by a friend to be calmed down. When my head finally cleared, I could think. Today is Tuesday. He works there Monday and Wednesday. Breathe.
Finally at some point in the early afternoon we couldn’t take it anymore. We couldn’t sit in that stuffy office that smelled like old sheet music and ancient costumes. My apartment-mate, Zeina and I started the seemingly long walk back home. Silence enveloped us. We couldn’t talk. We couldn’t communicate. We could only think. This young Jewish woman and her best friend, a beautiful Lebanese woman took comfort in each others presence. When we got home, we took comfort in cooking.
That’s what we do. We feed. It’s ingrained in both of us from our cultural heritage. We propped open our apartment door, turned on the TV, and cooked. We welcomed anyone who needed somewhere to be. We fed them until we ran out of food. And we sat, as a community, together absorbing what happened.
When I could finally speak to my parents, I told them about my day. My father’s first response was, “We have to stand with Zeina and her family now.” It seemed like an odd statement to me at the time. I didn’t understand. What had Zeina done? Nothing. Except to have been born to an Arab Christian family. Yes, they left Lebanon as Zeina was born to escape the wars but the climate in the United States of America was not a nice one when it came to our Arab brothers and sisters, post-911. Her father had to shave his facial hair because he feared profiling when he traveled. Reality #1
Jacksonville is home to many military bases. With three military facilities plus the King’s Bay Sub base close by, Jacksonville was high on the “potential target” list. Additionally, the city is held together with more bridges than I care to count. JU became an insulated campus, one that we were afraid to stray from in the days after the attacks. Reality #2
Bet ya didn’t know that tiny, liberal arts university JU has the second-largest NROTC program in the nation. After 911, I watched friends disappear. With the start of the war, I saw many more go. Reality #3
When I didn’t want to wake up that morning and I rolled over to catch 5 more minutes, I had no idea my life was going to change. I still remember being walked to the gate for my flights prior to 911. I remember when we weren’t angry at every foreigner and Osama Bin Laden was just a funny name I had never heard of.
My life went on, we all grew and adapted to the changes in security, and I refused to be afraid to fly but our world changed drastically that day.
My Rebbe, my father’s Rebbe, Reb Zalman wrote a beautiful prayer for peace for 9/11. Here is a link to it – http://bit.ly/911RebZ
Since this post has gotten rather long, stay tuned. I have an uplifting post coming about my friend’s very unique experience on 9/11. Possibly the only people in the world that have 9/11/01 as their anniversary.
July 12, 2017
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