I have been trying to figure out how to honor this ten-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, but each time I begin to write something it comes up woefully inadequate. I am lucky enough to say I have no personal connection to anyone who died that day (I do know plenty of people who lived in Manhattan and Washington DC, including my sister and her family, but who were all mercifully a safe distance away from the destruction) and because of that I almost feel like I have no standing to say anything. I don’t want to pretend I can grasp how friends and family members of those who perished felt that day or feel ten years later. In fact, I can’t even bring my mind to imagine what they must have felt because such thoughts are just too horrific, particularly now that I have my two innocent children whom I love more than my own life. But I don’t feel right ignoring this important day; so I thought I would just talk about where I was in my life when I heard the news.
Ten years ago today, I was sitting in my first-year Criminal Law class with Professor Forde-Mazrui. Law school had started maybe three weeks earlier and I was just beginning to feel comfortable in a class full of brainiacs all of whom I already adored. UVa Law had just recently installed wireless internet and our incoming class was one of the first who used it regularly during lectures while taking notes on our laptops. Our class met from 8:0o to 9:00 am and about 10 minutes before the lesson ended, the room was abuzz. The “buzz” wasn’t permeating the lecture enough to make the teacher stop (Professor Forde-Mazrui is legally blind, so I am not sure he was able to see the students finger-pointing at their laptop screens), but by the time we were packing up our books and computers a fellow student said to a group of us, “the World Trade Center was bombed.” After that, it was all a blur. We soon discovered using the spotty Wifi network on our hour-long break before Contracts class that it was in fact a plane that flew in to the building. Then another hit and there was no doubt in any of our minds that it was a terrorist attack. Then the Pentagon. Then a plane went down somewhere near Virginia (we later found out it was in Pennsylvania). It felt like the tragedies would never stop coming. And then one of my classmates leapt from his seat, put his hands on his head and said “oh my god, one of the Towers just collapsed.” I will never forget that feeling. I am not a naturally praying person but at that moment that was all I could think to do – pray. Pray for those people who were still in the building when it collapsed. Pray for those passengers on the planes that were used as assault missiles. Pray that they felt no fear, no pain, no horror. Pray that all they felt was peace.
Looking back ten years later, I think that was all most of us could do that day. Many of my fellow classmates and I donated blood that afternoon just so we could feel useful in some way. But we mostly just talked, bonded, called our loved ones, hugged our friends a little harder, and silently appreciated how lucky we all were to have been only witnesses to those events. And if there is a silver lining to September 11, 2001 it is the vast gratefulness we all felt for our own lives and the lives of those we love so dearly. In fact, my favorite reference to that day is about just that—love:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around.
A day to remember that what we all have in common is love.