Remembering 9/11/2001

Photo credit: wallyg on Flickr

I have never written a personal account of my experience on September 11, 2001.

I’ve honored the sacrifices made by our troops and their families and I’ve addressed the war on terror, both on this blog and elsewhere.  But I’ve avoided committing my personal thoughts to paper and pixel, partly because those feelings are intensely personal and difficult to capture, but also because I feel guilty for feeling like my experience matters.

I was in New York City when the first plane hit, but I was 15 miles away from the World Trade Center. While I knew two people who perished, they were not close friends or family members.  And like so many Americans, especially those in their teens and 20s, I had my naïveté about the world stripped violently away that morning, my sense of security obliterated.  But what right did I have to feel pain and grief when so many others never had a last goodbye with loved ones?

When American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. I was blow drying my hair, getting ready to teach a 9:30 a.m. class.  Running late, I had to forgo my usual morning pilgrimage to 7-11 and instead dashed across the street to the bodega to grab a cup of coffee-esque sludge as the second tower was hit.

“Everything’s gone to hell,” said the guy who handed me my paper cup.

I smiled politely and nodded as I paid, thinking the intended meaning had gotten lost in his thick Korean accent.

“You heard? You heard? The twin towers are on fire. Two planes hit the World Trade Center.”

Like a dolt, I replied, “Really?”  As if this man would have any reason to lie about something like that.

“Go, go. Put your radio on,” he said.

I ran to my car and flipped on 1010 WINS for the short ride to campus.  The broadcasters were using words like “unbelievable” and “disaster.”  They hadn’t moved on to “terrorism” yet.

I was struck by the grotesque contrast between what I was hearing and what I was seeing. The sky in New York had never been that fiercely blue, so clear it almost hurt to look up.  A slight breeze rustled the trees on the parkway, cooling the air to a perfect compromise between summer and fall. And yet reporters on the radio spoke of terrifying explosions and the thick plumes of smoke that seemed to carry shreds of paper over the East River.

Arriving at work, I caught my first glimpses of the burning towers on computer monitors as I walked past my colleagues’ offices.  I felt a growing tightness in my chest and stomach as I realized the likelihood of more casualties than I could imagine.  I wondered how many World Trade Center workers were running late like me.

A roomful of laughing, carefree 18-year-olds greeted me on the lower level of the library building. It was utterly surreal, these oblivious freshman faces expecting me to teach while Manhattan burned.

But I did.  Numbly, flatly, I made it through the longest 90 minutes of my life.  As we left the classroom, one student explained to her friend, “It’s totally karma, this World Trade Center thing. These bankers are just, like, getting what they have coming for being greedy.”

I still wonder, would she have said the same thing if she knew both towers had crumbled while we were cocooned in that classroom?

I spent the afternoon migrating from desk to quad, quad to desk, needing to be near people, but needing even more to get in touch with my parents, both of whom had meetings scheduled in Manhattan.  The phone lines were jammed and the volume of email being handled by our campus servers was delaying delivery by hours, so it was mid-afternoon when I heard from my mom. Like a little kid who’s been lost in a department store, hearing her voice made me cry.  It was 24 hours before I reached my boyfriend.  We wouldn’t hear from my father for two days.

Gathered outside in the afternoon with friends and coworkers, the eerie stillness of the sky was interrupted every so often by the high-pitched squeal of a fighter jet flying over the metro area.  I had never seen a plane traveling so low.  But even more chilling was the way all other aircraft had disappeared from the sky.  We didn’t know how many had been grounded and how many might have been repurposed as weapons of mass destruction.  Without any sense of the irrationality in what we were saying, we entertained fears that our campus could be the next target.  Planes were falling out of the sky – why not onto a college campus?

I wanted to do something – anything – but hospitals were turning away blood donors, and only those trained as first responders were being asked to report to Ground Zero. There was nothing to do but go home to the television.

I spent the night at my mom’s house glued to the television, realizing that our country was under attack yet not understanding how that could be.  We watched people escape the intense heat and smoke by plunging to their deaths on the rooftops and blacktop below.  We had no frame of reference, no point of comparison to cope with these scenes as they played on a seemingly endless loop.

Over the next few days was when I truly realized everything had fallen apart.

A dear friend of my mother’s spent night after night waiting for news of her brother-in-law, an NYPD Emergency Services Squad officer and volunteer firefighter.  His remains were never found.

A student who worked for me left campus to be with her family as they awaited news of her father that would never come.

Everywhere I went, the faces of the dead stared back at me from flyers posted by families looking for their lost loved ones.  I knew they were gone, and yet I couldn’t stop looking at the photos and other details, hoping beyond hope that just one of them might be walking the streets with amnesia.

I went to the Union Square vigil a day or two after the attacks.  The cloying scent of cheap candles and cheaper incense helped to mask the smell coming from Ground Zero as I walked among the photos, flowers, and prayer cards.  I saw heartfelt displays of patriotism, but by that point, there were also anti-American statements chalked onto the pavement.  There was one I’ll never forget: “The real cause of terrorism is U.S. foreign policy.” Another said, “Abolish religion to end terrorism.”

I made my way down to Washington Square Park that night and found my feet frozen in place across the street from the arch.  The iconic marble structure that had once framed the twin towers now framed nothing but the haze of acrid smoke and the blindingly bright floodlights at Ground Zero.  I stood there for a long time with my shirt pulled up over my face to filter out the worst of the filthy air, but I didn’t go any further.  I couldn’t.

As a kid, I spent countless hours in the PATH station below the World Trade Center, hanging out with my boyfriend (now husband) until it was time for him to catch the train.  A few months before the collapse of the towers, I had jury duty in lower Manhattan and had lunch on the concourse level.  And less than a week before the attacks, I drove past the towers with my sister, who was moving out of state the next day.  She looked up and with as much drama as she could muster said, “Goodbye twin towers.”

I’ve never been to Ground Zero, and I’m not sure I’ll ever go. I don’t want to see a hole in the ground.  What I want to see is a pair of ugly steel skyscrapers filled with people from all over the world living their lives in a free and secure United States of America.

The Meaning of a Girl in Uniform

Ask most kids to draw a picture of a veteran, and you’ll get crayoned combat boots and digital camo gear, almost invariably topped off by a high and tight haircut.  In other words, a man in uniform.

One little girl brought tears to a female veteran’s eyes with a different vision:

An Army LTC [Lieutenant Colonel] was at the event in uniform. “I have to share this with you,” he told a group of us. He explained that a local teacher asked her students to draw pictures of what the word “veteran” meant to them, and lots of students drew american flags, others drew soldiers at war. So she asked him to come into her class to talk to the students about what it means to be a veteran. But among all the other drawings, there was one that stood out.

The LTC pulled it out and showed it to us.

It was a drawing of a pretty, smiling girl in an Army uniform.

Mind you, as an Army vet, I have been well-trained in the philosophy of “suck it up and drive on.” I can speak to hundreds of people calmly.

But when I saw that drawing, tears filled my eyes.

Read the whole story by Kayla Williams at The New Agenda.  She is one of more than 1.8 million women vets who deserve greater public recognition for their service.

Greenville Tea Party Draws 2,000 Protesters

2,000 protesters gathered on the banks of the Reedy River Friday evening for the Greenville Tea Party. Frustrated citizens joined Americans in more than 50 cities to decry the grotesquely irresponsible bailouts, pork, and ill-advised stimulus measures that are turning current and future generations into permanent federal piggy banks.

The rally organized by the Upstate Young Republicans was nothing short of inspirational.  I know that sounds sappy, but as a lifelong New Yorker, I’ve never seen that many Republicans in one place and honestly, it was kind of validating to see that they exist in real life, not just in the cesspools known as blog comment sections.  The turnout was incredible, dwarfing my expectations and those of the organizers.  Looking at the crowd estimates, it may have been the most well-attended of all the Tea Parties held Friday.

The ground was muddy, the sky overcast, the air humid, and no one seemed to care.

Here are photos of some of the protest signs (please excuse my ailing camera):

It’s gotta be a sweet tea party if you’re in Greenville, SC.

Welcome Back, Carter!

Elections have consequences.

Obamanomics: trickle up poverty.

Speakers electrified the crowd with talk of constitutional freedoms and personal responsibility, eliciting roars of agreement that could be heard blocks away. Rob and I listened to a young mother explaining the history of the Revolution to her daughter (accurately!) and watched fathers hoist their children into the air to wave flags and banners. Samuel Adams (and his reincarnation Rick Santelli) would be proud.

While the protesters were clearly unhappy with the usual suspects – Obama, Pelosi, and Reid – there was a particularly special place in their hearts for South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Chants of “Lindsey Don’t Care!” spread through the crowd as speakers criticized his earmarks in the most recent omnibus spending bill.

Mentions of our other South Carolina Senator, Jim DeMint, were met with wild rounds of applause. His consistent fiscal conservatism and hard-line stance against the bailouts has earned him hero status here in Greenville.

Even Ron Paul’s supporters were out in full force, gearing up for 2012 with updated campaign signs.

The highlight of the event, however, was when a speaker asked people under 30 to raise their hands so he could apologize to them for the generational theft taking place.  Since I turned 29 again this year, I joined right in and the only person who gave me a funny look was my husband.

Here are a few more photos of the crowd taken from the Main Street bridge:

And one final shot of the crowd rushing toward the river bank at dusk to toss in their tea:

Many of the protesters brought trash bags full of leaves in lieu of tea. I must have missed the memo – did they do that in other cities?

Local photographer Jenny Marie Brown has more photos of the Greenville rally.

Other Tea Party coverage (I’ll add to this round up over the weekend – leave your links in the comments):

Michelle Malkin’s Tea Party photo album

My friend Bill Hennessy covers the hugely successful St. Louis Tea Party he organized (1,000+ protesters)

Gateway Pundit has more on the St. Louis rally

America’s North Shore Journal has a multi-city round up

Dan at GayPatriot attended the LA Tea Party on Santa Monica Pier

The Denver Tea Party at Slapstick Politics

Video of the Atlanta Tea Party from Blue Star Chronicles

Great photos of the San Diego Tea Party from Christa at Cheat Seeking Missiles

And finally, to all the Tea Party naysayers who think this movement isn’t going anywhere (I’m lookin’ at you, Cavuto): it’s on.

Lessons From a Collision

Something dreadful happened to me last night that gave me a bit of perspective as we prepare for the coming Obama administration.

A young deer darted out in front of my car. I was only going 25 MPH, but slamming on the brakes and swerving sharply didn’t stop the spooked deer from getting clipped by the edge of my headlight. The poor animal rolled up the hood and onto the windshield as I came to a stop.

Amazingly, the fawn slid to the ground and landed squarely on his legs.

America will do the same.

I expect the country to take a beating during the next four years. The economy is unstable, terrorism remains a threat, and the size of our federal government is unacceptable. These things would be true no matter who emerged victorious last night.

But Barack Obama, our most liberal senator, is now our president-elect. He will be backed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate comprised of some of the most liberal legislators in history, and together they will ignore the lessons of history and respond to crises with big government solutions. During the next two years, government will plump grotesquely like the collagen-injected lips of aging celebrities. From a right-of-center perspective, the country’s energy, fiscal, and foreign policies will sustain notable damage, and we will witness the implementation of social programs that undermine the progress of minorities and limit the upward mobility of the poor.

That said, a dire future is not inevitable. Like the deer that hurtled into my car, our country will survive its collision with a liberal agenda. It may end up temporarily worse for the wear – my car certainly did – but America has weathered greater threats than being governed from the left for a few years. America and Americans have an undeniable history of greatness and a solid record of using our freedoms to oppose government when necessary.

I remain proud of my country and in constant awe of my good fortune to awaken each morning in 21st century America. John McCain may not have been the man to carry the Republican Party to victory, but all Americans would be wise to heed his words: “America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.”

Now we gird our loins, cowboy up, and forge ahead.

Free Elisabeth Hasselbeck!

When the McCain campaign sequestered Sarah Palin from the mainstream media immediately after her stellar national debut, they received a well deserved skewering by conservative commentators who pleaded with her handlers to free Sarah Palin, to let her be authentic and unrestrained. After watching Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s performance at a Palin rally last weekend, I hope her agent will heed the same advice: Free Elisabeth!

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And here’s some further proof that Elisabeth Hasselbeck is a force to be reckoned with: feminists are blaming the speech for filling their minds with violent thoughts and driving them to hit the bottle. Seriously, read the comments at Jezebel.

Do I want more Elisabeth unleashed?  Hell yeah, but let’s skip the usual side order of tiresome clucking hens doing their damnedest to drown out Elisabeth’s sharp and sassy wit.

Let Elisabeth be Elisabeth.

Hat tip: Weekly Standard Blog

Click to Support our Soldiers

Squidoo is donating $80,000 to charity, and you can help make sure it goes to a worthy cause by visiting their charity giveaway page and voting for your favorite organization. For each vote, Squidoo will give that organization $2.

Please spare a moment of your day to help fund one of the charities on their list.  My click went to Soldiers’ Angels, the outstanding organization that supports service members, veterans, and their families. This winter they hope to send 180,000 care packages to military personnel deployed overseas.

Help support our troops by voting for Soldiers’ Angels at Squidoo and then spread the word to everyone you can.  Voting ends on October 15th, or when the tally reaches 40,000 votes.

Hat tip: Bookworm Room

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