This post was shared on The Student Affairs Collaborative as a series of reflections on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.
September 11, 2001 was a beautiful day in the middle of the country with skies so blue it hurt your eyes. A student stopped by our office suite early that morning and mentioned a plane crash in New York City. We pulled out a small television we kept in the office to see what news we could find. As it turned out, that 4-inch Sony was the only TV in our building that day. Many of my colleagues spent hours gathered around my desk as we attempted to make sense of what was occurring.
I watched Katie Couric speaking with NBC Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, when he paused and then said a large explosion had just rocked the Pentagon. It was 9:37 EDT. Karen Kincaid died in that crash of American Airlines Flight 77. She graduated from my high school a few years before me. Everyone who met Karen said she was the nicest person they ever knew.
My husband worked on campus and we were in constant phone contact sharing online information. U.S. news sites were bogged down with web traffic, so we found most of our information from the BBC website. I called my parents in Colorado. It was still early there, so my dad was a bit foggy when answering the phone. It took a bit to convince him to turn on the television. When I reached my sister, she shared that my brother-in-law was currently on a flight to Denver. It was several hours before we could confirm his arrival. His return flight became a fight for the last available rental car and a long drive home.
I kept busy checking on students on internship or exchange along the east coast. One student was interning with a firm just 25 blocks from the World Trade Center and had been at a meeting only 6 blocks away at the time of attacks. Another student, like Valerie, was enrolled at William Paterson with a clear view of the Twin Towers as they collapsed. A third, enrolled at another campus in New Jersey, canceled exchange, packed her car and returned home within a day.
Although not much work was completed, we remained at the office through the day. Around 4:00 p.m., word began circulating that there was a gasoline shortage in town. My husband and I decided to head out a bit early to pick up our 2 ½ year old daughter from her childcare, just a mile west of campus. As we approached the main thoroughfare though town, traffic was at a stand still in all directions. Cars filled every intersection. We backtracked and cut through parking lots, seeking an open street. After several blocks of thwarted attempts, my panic level was reaching epic proportions. We could not cross the highway.
I had worked all day to make certain my students were present and accounted for. It never occurred to me that I would not be able to get to my own child a mile away. And there it was, that work/life balance that so frequently challenges us in student affairs, smacking me in the face. Yet this time, it was accompanied by fear like I had never felt. A fear so strong I can feel it now; the fear that I could not protect my child.
Of course we eventually navigated around town, and within a few days, life returned to something resembling normal in our university community. But we knew that every other person in the country was to trying to make sense of it, just like we were.