Here’s my “where I was on that day”…it can get overwhelming to read all of these that will inevitably pop up, but I’m a firm believer in letting people take whatever outlet they need to grieve, here’s mine.
I was sitting in the state mandated high school course for TN seniors, Economics, with literally the most inept teacher I had during my 17 years of formal education. We had just finished a video on Harland David Sanders, also know as Colonel Sanders, face of KFC. The guy lead an interesting, humble life and got duped into selling all rights (including his iconic face) of the franchise to some business men, which meant most of his life he received no money or fees for the franchise using his face, name, and for a while, voice. Now, I find personal stories interesting, but there is no way, nine years later I could give you a detailed background for Colonel Sanders if it had not been that once our video ended, the television set clicked back to one of the few live brodcast stations that our school classrooms where hooked up to. Just as my inept teacher was about to ask us our views and opinions on the KFC man, someone recognized the NYC skyline.
We all stopped, everyone was silent and attentive. There was smoke coming from the tower on the left and no one knew why the WTC was on fire, then we read the ticker on the bottom of our fuzzy television. We were listening to the announcer whose voice was quivering. This is when I knew that this would be our generations JFK shooting, man landing on the moon, or the end of WW2…this would be the moment we talked about for the rest of our lives. It was already sending shock waves of unbelief through our unknowing class of middle Tennessee 17-year-olds, and we didn’t even know it was a terrorist attack yet.
Then as we continued to all sit in silence and watch the 13” TV mounted in the corner by the door, the second plane hit and we all screamed from the shock of seeing a plane fly into a building. Moments later as you know, the first tower fell and not long after that the images of the people on the streets running terrified from the ominous gray cloud of debris that was coming for them was etched into our American mind. Then the second tower. Then the coverage. Our school bell rang on schedule to signify the change of classes, and while everyone responded to the bell in that we arose from our seats and began to slowly pack our bags, keeping one eye on the TV the whole time, I distinctly remember someone asking our teacher what should we do? We knew we could not go about the day as usual now, but we exited the class and proceeded on our ways.
In a rowdy, rural, overcrowded school of 1,500…the 8 minutes between classes was like fish swimming against the flow. It was noisy and shoulder to shoulder contact that I tried my hardest to avoid. As our Economics class exited quietly, I wondered who else knew, should I take it upon myself to tell everyone? The eerie silence from inside the classroom was not disturbed in the hall, despite the typical should to shoulder contact, it was quiet. There were whispers sharing the news to classrooms who were unaware and hadn’t turned on there TV’s. By the end of 2nd block, the whole school was aware and tuned into the coverage. My calculus teacher was the only one who tried to get some work done that day, she left the TV on but gave us some problems to work on, though I don’t think anyone did them.
Throughout the rest of the day the panic began to spread, rumors of a terrorist attack striking Oak Ridge, a former nuclear power plant in rural TN that is said to still have some radioactive activity, spread through our school (and apparently the state—the local news came on to discuss this). I remember thinking of our grandparents who lived in this fear daily during the Cold War and of students in other countries in which this is so much apart of their lives that they wouldn’t get a pass on their ‘calculus’ homework if they took time to discuss such.
The next day in the Economics class where we watched the towers fall together we began to discuss. The quarterback of the football team and I somehow had almost every class together. He was as arrogant as you would suspect a 17yr old QB in a town that glorifies football and I was the slightly kooky, quiet band nerd. We had known each other since the 7th grade when he tried to cheat off of my history test…I let him because as the teacher was passing out the test, she told us that everyone was getting a different test to prevent cheating…I figured if he didn’t pay attention he would get the grade he deserved…he got a 7 out of 100. We had never gotten along since then. He was a loud mouthed, closed-minded baptist and I was a quiet, slightly open-minded CoCer.
He spent September 12th rilling up the class about what ‘we’ should do. Things like “Americia needs to go to war and get back at them” and “We shouldn’t let anyone with a towel on his head get on an airplane anymore” came from his mouth. I remember staring at him with my mouth open, then once most of the class began to agree with him, I couldn’t take it anymore. I spoke up (literally the first time some of these people had heard my voice) and asked the entire class if they had lost their minds. Discussions/arguments between the quarterback and me continued for weeks we went back and forth on the religious, moral, and national implications of profiling Muslims and targeting them…our inept teacher had to step in a few times to stop us.
Even then, arguing with someone who was literally my same demographic (white, middle class, teenager, Christian, rural, Southern), I knew that the idea of treating an entire race or religion like they personally hijacked the planes and flew into the towers themselves was wrong. It’s a shame that we haven’t come much further from that point of view today, nine years later. While I remember many details from September 11th, I also remember many conversations from September 12th. The hate that filled my classmates voices for a people and a religion in which they had never encountered (there aren’t many Muslims in Lebanon, TN) still echoes in my head today. When I hear the violent, closed-minded opposition to Park51….I can’t help but to hear the scared, ignorant, angry voice of a 17yr old quarterback who thought that violence was the answer to our terrified state. And while I will spend today reflecting on the victims who lost their lives, I will also spend today thinking of all the people that suffered their own version of terrorism from people that attacked them, mentally and emotionally, after that day because of the religion or skin tone.