Sunday, September 11, 2011

When the world stopped turning

September 11, 2001:

In some ways, it feels like 9/11 was a lifetime ago, in other ways it still feels very fresh.

The official death toll of those killed in the 9/11 attacks is 2,996 (19 of which were hijackers).

I am fully aware that countless people are killed each day due to tragedies such as unclean drinking water, famine, AIDS, abortion, maternal mortality rates, war and the list could go on. What is so striking about the 9/11 attacks is that it hit so close to home and was such a blatant, violent attack against innocent people, in order to send a message to the governments. (Yes, in my first sentence of this paragraph, the majority of those killed are innocent as well.)

Be it right, or be it wrong, the reality is that the 9/11 attacks stick with us so much more because they were so close and so many people have a story - a friend, a relative, an acquaintance who was killed, or who knew someone who was killed. It's a morbid form of six degrees of separation.

Where were YOU?

I had arrived the week previous for my first year of college at CBC in Regina and like many young Canadians, especially from the western part of Canada, had never even heard of the World Trade Center and knew little about the American political system. I knew the Pentagon wasn't the White House, but couldn't tell you who did what, and where.

Along with the other girls in my dorm, we were getting ready for our 8 am classes. Regina is 2 hours behind NYC, so we were all moving slowly, wiping the sleep out of our eyes and moving towards the bathroom to wake ourselves up for class, we were now our 2nd week in and it was important to not miss classes (you were only permitted 3 'misses' - skips, or otherwise, before you were failed from a course).

I cannot remember who said what, but all of a sudden there was a jumble of conversation:

"the towers have been hit!"
"a plane hit a building in NYC"
"there was an accident and a plane hit a building"
"planes have been hijacked"
"the World Trade Center was hit"
"the White House is under attack"

None of this made sense to me.

Having flown a lot already in my 17 years, the thought of hijackers or any accident involving a plane made me anxious. I immediately thought "why" and "are we safe?" If people in a big, corporate city like NYC and the US government weren't safe, was anyone? It didn't occur to me to think that I was living in the middle of some cornfields and there wasn't a whole lot of anything going on.

I think a small part of me thought the world might end. That was me, always jumping to worst-case scenario.

Immediately our dorm was awake and questions were flying, radios were being tuned in, computers turned on (we weren't allowed to have TVs in our dorms). The internet wasn't that fast, we didn't know what was happening and classes were going to start soon - so we tried to finish getting ready for classes, but the questions continued.

We went to class and our teachers gave us a brief explanation of what they knew had happened, we cancelled classes for the day and had all students meet in chapel for a time of prayer.

Those of us who lived on campus or didn't somehow have access to a TV, went downstairs and packed the Student Lounge to watch the news.

I remember feeling so very small.

There were two American students with us, Jamie from Montana and Jacob from Alaska. Soon everyone started peppering them with questions and anyone who had an American relative had a story to share as to how they were connected to this tragedy. I thought of my mom's cousin, Hanna, who would often go to NYC on business. I prayed she wasn't there (I found out a week or so later that she had left NYC the day before to return to Switzerland)

I spent most of the next week in a bit of a daze, never fully understanding the reason, the geographical location or anything about the story. I just felt an overwhelming sense of sadness.

And now, 10 years later, I look back and reflect upon the stories and I still ask many of the same questions.

Share your story in the comments


  1. GREAT post, Niki!
    We were just starting our school day when our neighbour called and said I had to put the TV on. Honestly, I thought "yah, yah" and really thought she must be overreacting. But we were astonished when we saw what was happening. Another thing that struck me was that many planes were diverted to our area - and we normally don't hear too many planes here but there were lots -- and I thought "how do we know that THOSE planes don't have terrorists on them too??"
    I remember going to the store and everything was silent. It's like everyone was in shock - no radios on either. I think we were all numb and didn't want to hear any more.

  2. Now it's 15 yrs ago, I still remember hearing the news on the radio as my coworker and I were on our commute home from our night shift. I ran in to the house when I arrived, turned the TV on, yelled to your dad to come and watch.... and we watched in horror, unable to turn it off, waiting for answers and praying.