Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hanging Up on World War 3: My 9/11 Story

Here is my 9/11 story.

9/11/01 was a Tuesday.

I was home with baby Zoe pretty much all the time except the few hours I taught one History class that met at night on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

On this particular Tuesday morning I took Zoe to the pediatrician for her 9 month check up. 

Everything went beautifully and as I pulled out of the parking lot, I called Chuck let him know appointment went well.

He answered the phone, "World War 3" -- so I hung up on him because I hate it when he answers the phone in fake voices or saying crazy things.  

A minute later, when he didn't call back, I called him again, and again he answered, "World War 3!

I hung up on him again, annoyed at him and also at trying to take a particularly tight left onto Betten.

A few minutes later, he called me back. 

I told him Zoe had a great check up and he asked if I'd seen the news.

No? You're kidding he said, you have to see this, YOU of all people. America is under attack! 

America is under attack? I asked, say, repeating his words while looking into the backseat at happy quiet Zoe. 

I don't remember asking who was attacking us or why, and I didn't think at all to panic on the drive home.

I didn't turn on the car radio because I wasn't ready to hear what was going on (yet).

The rest of that day I was glued to the TV and the phone and email because students were tracking me down to ask if there would still be a quiz that night. 

I didn't have a quick answer for them - I guessed there would be because I hate moving quizzes and changing published dates. 

Students said they couldn't study, they were afraid to come to campus, that they were  too distracted by trying to find brothers and cousins and best friends in New York.

I didn't know what to do - I'd never even imagined a day like this. I grew up during the Cold War -- the best I could do was sing a little "Duck and Cover" which, it turned out, didn't help us much during this particular attack.

TCC's campus closed that afternoon, so my quiz was postponed.

But those hijackers didn't hijack my semester; we dove into American history deeper and harder than any semester before.   

Since 9/11 there have been more opportunities to show kindness and neighborliness; since 9/11 there are more flags, and more parades.

Best of all,  9/11 I've had the pleasure of seeing more Veterans in my classroom than before -- prouder, younger, and more visible  than any group of Veterans to roll out of war and into college since WW2. 

The only time fear has crossed into my life since 9/11 was a few weeks after 9/11 when I was flying with Zoe.

She was almost a year old and barely able to stand, so I carried Zoe with me through the airport electronic screening.  The metal zipper on her footed jammies set off the beeper and so they needed to go over her body with that beeping hand-held wand thingy.

The whole beeping ordeal was starting to freak Zoe out, so she was crying hysterically and clinging to me.

 A stern voice barked at me to put her down so they could wand her, telling me to take my hands off of her and step away.

I remember blank faces staring helplessly as I pulled Zoe's grabbing hands off me, making her cry even more hysterically.  

It was all over in less than five minutes, but while it was unfolding,  I didn't feel like I was in a free country -- for a few minutes I didn't *like* what I thought America could become.

When we boarded that plane I let all my fear and anger go, because I love this country. I study US history and foreign policy professionally and tell stories about her compulsively and passionately -- including one where I hang up on World War 3.