Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What I Remember

I thought about posting this yesterday, (ok, technically two days ago now), and just ran out of time. No real 'point' to it, but just a day when people share their stories about where they were, I guess.

In September 2001, I was a second-year student at Drew Theological School in Madison, NJ. I was just starting my supervised ministry position, which was working as an intern at the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns (GCCUIC). I had been there two days (I worked on Mondays and Fridays, so I was in on September 7th and September 10th), and my supervisors were out of town at a board meeting, so I didn't yet have a clue what I was doing. I remember feeling just proud that I had managed the commute to work - a Njtransit train to Manhattan, a subway uptown to the Columbia University area, and a walk from the station to the so-called "God Box."

On September 11th, I slept in past 9am for sure. After my first year of seminary, I never had classes before lunch - not even by design, just by how the courses were offered. I got up and went to the bookstore for something, and the radio was on, and I heard something about a plane crash, but frankly, didn't think a lot about it. I went to the library, and tried to logon to cnn.com and couldn't get to the page, but again, didn't think much about it. As I was checking a book out, I overheard a librarian tell a work-study student that it was ok if he didn't feel up to working that day.

I wandered over to Seminary Hall. And then people began to ask if others had heard the news. Chapel was at 11am. It was scheduled to be a certain kind of service, but changed into a prayer service. The secretary gave us reports of what she knew so far. Word, at that time, was still that other planes might be missing and heading for other targets. By the end of the service, she had let us know that both towers had crumbled.

After chapel, I called my mother at work and started sobbing. I posted an away message on my AIM letting folks know that it wasn't one of my work days, for which I'm still grateful. I can't imagine having been in Manhattan, even way up far away from the Towers, and not being able to get through to people who were worrying about me, and trying to figure out how to get back to New Jersey. It was just so overwhelming. In the afternoon their was a campus-wide vigil/service. I went, but couldn't quite bring my self to sing in the choir, as I usually would.

I skipped going to work on the following Friday. My bosses were still mostly out of town, and didn't mind giving me another day off. When I returned to work on the following Monday, all my previous confidence of working in the city was gone. I was totally stressed out on every trip to and from the city for most of the semester, I bet. (Especially later on when we sat on a train for over an hour waiting for bio-hazard people to come check out a suspicious powder in the midst of the anthrax scare days. It was powder sugar remnants from a doughnut.)

My work at GCCUIC ended up focusing very much on Christian-Muslim relations, for obvious reasons. I'll never know what I might have done all year there had circumstances been different. Drew, being just a 45 minute train ride from Manhattan, was tied in lots of ways to the tragedy. Lots of students commuting to and from the city for some reason or other, and faculty. And of course, eventually Tom Kean, then-president of Drew, ended up chairing the 9/11 commission.

Has 9/11 changed me? Josh Tinley wrote about how his life has changed in 5 years, but maybe not because of 9/11. For me, I think 9/11 and the world events that followed propelled me to get involved in social justice activism in a really hands on way for the first time. But I think I might have ended up in a similar place under different circumstances. I think it certainly added a layer of anxiety to my life that wasn't there before. More anxiety about the world in general. I was still in elementary school in 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the event didn't merit much more than a passing comment in my diary. It didn't touch me. So an event like this - I think it was maybe the first to touch me in a deeper way.
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