Sunday, September 11, 2016

A 9/11 Remembrance

    The worst attack on United States soil occurred fifteen years ago today. It does not seem like that long ago. Much has happened, both personally and nationally, since the attack. I wrote about 9/11 several times on my old Eye of Polyphemus blog. Those posts are long gone, but thoughts on 9/11 are worth writing down again here.
       I moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia in late July 2001 to attend law school at Regent University. I knew no one in the area save for a family whom my mother and I had been friends with since our video store days in Bennettsville, South Carolina. By the time September 11th rolled around, I still knew hardly anyone other than my roommate, Daniel. Law is much like an academic boot camp in which students are broken down in order to build them back up as lawyers. One can literally spend every waking moment immersed in assignments and yet always feel like there was more work you should do to prepare. There is not much time to make personal connections with classmates other than the shard bond of struggling under the pressure of studying.
       The atmosphere of Virginia Beach did not help much. It was a navy town and vacation resort. The population was a highly transient mix of navy personnel, wealthy snowbirds, and tourists. There was no real sense of community beyond the pride of serving as the home of the Atlantic fleet. There was, however, the hint of the dangers faced from terrorism. The USS Cole, the navy vessel bombed by terrorists in Yemen back in late 2000, was still docked for repairs. All this to say Virginia Beach could be a lonely place aside from a sense of patriotism.
       The lack of personal connections between classmates and the sense of community changed rapidly on September 11th. Daniel and I did not spring for cable since neither of us cared much for television. I always listened to the radio while getting ready in the morning, but since we both had a nine o'clock class, we left the apartment at quarter til. The first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center literally as we were walking out the door. I never turned the radio on in my car, so we were completely oblivious on the three minute commute to campus.
       News traveled fast for others. A classmate name Chris, who was from New York, dashed out the front door of the law school building while on his cell phone. He gave off the vibe he had an emergency, but I could not have guessed the truth at that point. Classmates were already gathering in the lobby chattering about a plane hitting the World Trade Center.
       The notion it was the beginning of a terrorist attack had not struck me yet. I figured a private pilot had crashed with his Cessna or some such. Tragic, but not with the implications the truth would bring. It was not until a few long minutes after class was supposed to start a late coming classmate who had been caught up in the news informed us a second plane had struck the south tower and another hit the Pentagon. Now I realized they were hijacked airliner used in a terrorist attacks. You cannot blame me for not understanding sooner. What sort of fevered mind would devise such an evil act?
       Professor Cook arrived a few minutes later and explained everything known so far. The dean canceled classes for the day, but a screen had been set up in the moot court room/auditorium for anyone who wanted to watch the live news. I opted to do so. The place was packed, standing room only. Standing in one place for a tong period of time was not really my thing, but this was important. I settled in and leaned up against the back wall. When I looked up at the screen for the first time, the south tower collapsed. As far as I knew, I just witnessed the deaths of 50,000+ people. Thankfully, evacuations were smooth enough to have spared the vast majority of people. Yet it was the most horrific sight I will ever witness if there is any fairness in the world.
       I stood there watching for abort an hour. We were asked to form prayer circles twice, once for the victims of the World Trade Center and subsequently those in the Pentagon. A number of classmates and I learned each others' names for the first time even though we “knew” each other for nearly a month by then. It was a harsh way to bond, but reality is often harsh. I have often wondered how the sense of community would have developed for the Class of 2004 if9/11 had not happened. I would happily be willing to find out, but history is carved in stone.
       I am not so certain 9/11 resonates today. We were definitely in a post-9//11 era of greater vigilance, but I suspect it has long since been replaced by a post Iraq War era. But that is a political science debate for another time. I have became less cynical—if you can believe that—over the implication of 9/11. I once wrote it was likely the beginning of the end for American civilization. I once compared the hijacker to the Visigoths attacking a modern day Rome clueless it is about to fall. These days, I think Americans themselves pose a greater existential threat.
       So maybe I am not less cynical. I have merely shifted focus. I do not want to end my 9/11 remembrance on a pessimistic note. There is much to be optimistic about if we keep faith. So I will just say God bless America.

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