In August 2001, I packed my bags and made the long haul from Flemington, NJ to Wilmore, KY to attend Asbury College as a freshman. My parents came with me to help me put together my room and get settled. There were tearful goodbyes when they left, but excitement loomed at the start of this great new adventure. The beginning of the year was a blur of newness–new friends, new dorm, new classes, new freedom…new everything. Classes started without a hitch, and I settled into a new routine.
Against this backdrop of fun and newness, what began as a normal day less than a month into the school year transformed into a day of horrific events that will forever be seared into my mind. I had just walked back to my room from the hall bathroom when I flipped on my small TV to watch the morning news. I was surprised by the image I saw on the screen: black smoke billowing from one of the Twin Towers which had just been hit by an airplane. I heard the newscaster saying that “a plane had lost control and hit the tower,” that authorities were calling this a terrible accident. Before the magnitude of this crash could even sink in, to my utter horror, I watched a second plane hit the second tower. In minutes, the tone of the news shifted, and I began hearing phrases like “terrorist attack” and “suicide mission” across the airwaves.
I called my dad in New Jersey.
“Dad,” I said, “are you watching the news?”
“Because something is happening in New York, and I think it’s really important.”
When I hung up the phone, I hurriedly finished getting ready for class. I remember thinking (naively) that I needed to get to my class to tell the professor what was going on. With uneasiness in my heart, I briskly walked across campus to the classroom in Reasoner 214. The class was Art Appreciation, and the room was equipped with a large screen and projector and theater-style tiered seating. As I walked in the room, I saw that across the large screen the news was already playing, and students and professors were filling in the seats in the room. I quietly slipped into my usual seat in the classroom next to a good friend of mine.
I pulled out a blank piece of paper.
And I wrote.
You see, I am external processor. As the images of planes crashing into buildings flashed again and again before my eyes, there was a lot to process. I began to write down everything I was seeing and feeling. I watched and wrote for an hour or more. I wept when the towers fell. I hugged the people around me. I shivered at the realization of lives lost and the ugliness of humanity. When the bell rang to signal that class was over, I finally got up as if emerging from a trance.
I called my dad again. The intensifying question for me–a New Jersey native transplanted in Kentucky– was, “Do any of the people from our home church work in the World Trade Center? Dad, do we know anyone who could be in danger?” Praise the Lord, we did not lose anyone we knew that day. Dad later told me that he was supposed to have gone into the city to get travel visas for the family, but something went wrong logistically, so he stayed home instead. Again, praise the Lord.
That day, we had an “emergency” chapel service in Hughes Auditorium. It’s the only one we had during my time at Asbury. I don’t remember everything. I just know we prayed.
That day, I felt vulnerable and lost.
That day changed my freshman year. It colored the weeks and months to come.
That day is still haunting me ten years later…and I didn’t even know the victims personally. I think it’s because on that day, I saw the great evil of which humanity is capable. I also saw the love and compassion of the first responders, the passion of those seeking loved ones, and the prayerful faithfulness of the saints. Through it (or in spite of it) all, I saw that God is a loving God, full of compassion, and I knew that on that day, He heard our anguished cries.
There is a hill in my home town of Flemington where on a clear day you used to be able to see the Twin Towers far off on the horizon. My family went up to that hill ten years ago today, and they could see the skyline full of black smoke. Whenever I drive that road, I am reminded of how the events of 9/11 changed the landscape of NYC and the landscape of the hearts of Americans forever.
On September 11, 2001, some of the newness and excitement of being a freshman in college wore off. It was a sobering day. It was a day to lean on the Lord and try to trust that He really does “know the plans [He has] for [us]” (Jer. 29:11). I can’t believe that ten years have passed. Today, my heart goes out to all of the families and friends of those whose lives have been lost in the war that began ten years ago.
I am not a freshman anymore, but I will not forget.
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I must be honest: this memoir is more for me than for you. Everyone has his or her story of Sept. 11, 2001, so my story is nothing special; we all experienced the same shock and loss. It’s just that sometimes writing helps me to let go, and ten years later, letting go is a nice idea.
I mentioned that I wrote and wrote and wrote while I was watching all of the events of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 transpire. I don’t have that writing with me in Taiwan, but someday I’m going to fish it out of my boxes of keepsakes and journals. Maybe I’ll even share it.