Early that morning, I was heading to work over at Springfield College in Illinois. I had a 9:00 a.m. World Regional Geography class that I was teaching that semester. My students were about to begin studying the section on The Middle East and the Muslim religion that day – of all days. So, on my way to work, I had the radio on and was still in Sherman at the red light waiting to turn. The disc jockey on the radio was reporting that a jet airplane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City that morning and then a newsflash came across that a second jet had just hit the other tower. There was shock and silence.
I knew at that moment that our country was under attack.
I pulled in to the gas station in Sherman to fill up and I went inside. I told the clerk behind the counter that they might want to turn on the news and told them about the World Trade Center had just been hit by two jets and that I think our country may be under attack. Later that afternoon, this same gas station would jack up the cost of gas with nearly 50 cars trying to get gasoline in a panic.
I arrived at the college and went downstairs into my classroom where I had about 50 students. Everything was abuzz with the news and I had a television set that I turned on to the news as we all just watched live what was going on. I “officially” cancelled class and we just watched the television. A few minutes in, news hit that another plane had just hit the Pentagon. There was disbelief, shock, sadness, and anger. We all watched for probably about an hour and then people began to come and go. I remember heading over to my office across from the classroom and trying to gather all the news that I could. We heard that all flights across the nation were being grounded. We heard rumors that the Sears Tower in Chicago (now called The Willis Tower) was a target, but that didn’t come to fruition. Thank God. All sorts of chaos and this feeling in your gut hit you that you were witnessing a moment in time that was going to forever change the world.
As a side note, I remember that day before the attack, I was planning on eating lunch in my office as one of my favorite musical artists, Sting, was going to broadcast over the Internet a live concert from his home in Italy. The concert was cancelled for the online broadcast, though Sting did decided to go ahead and do the concert. He would later release it as a live CD album and DVD. I digress, but this was part of my memory from that day.
I was also scheduled to teach an art class that afternoon where I had only three art students. Hunter, Stan, and Richard. I remember talking to them during the lunch hour and they were mentioning they weren’t coming to class as they planned to go get gas for their cars. I guess news of a possible gasoline shortage was starting to float around as a rumor. None of us felt like making art that day. I also broke a rule as an instructor and I didn’t notify the Dean of Academics office that I was cancelling a class. I just was numb and emotionally distraught with what was happening. I decided to head home early that afternoon.
Heading home to Sherman, Illinois, I passed the gas station that I had visited earlier in the morning and was amazed at the line of cars that I saw. Not since the 1970’s oil crisis had I seen a scene of that many cars all honking and lined up to get gas. I went ahead and made my way home.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I don’t have recollections of interacting with my ex-wife or children that evening when I got home. My kids would have been ages five and one. I just know that I was emotionally so very numb. I remember the television was covering the news and there was footage being shown that evening that I don’t think I’ve seen since. It was tragic. Watching the World Trade Center collapse. Watching footage of the jets hitting the towers. Watching footage of people falling out of skyscraper buildings to their deaths. All I remember was that I was sitting on the couch as evening fell and it got dark outside. I was glued to the television set just watching the horror.
At some point, the Dean of Academics at Springfield College called me that late afternoon. I kind of got a little bit of a chew out that I had cancelled my class and hadn’t reported this to his Administrative Assistant. I apologized and let him know that the students and I decided to cancel class due to the events of the day. He asked if I was okay and I think he heard it in my voice that I was numb. He kind of let it go and never it mentioned it again. I don’t know how anyone else could have carried on that day acting like it was business as usual.
I just remember sitting in the dark watching television until I had enough and decided to go to bed. I do remember checking on my kids in their beds as they slept and thinking that the world had just become an uglier place for them and nothing was ever going to be the same again.
It is 20 years later as I write this. I’m still numb thinking about that day and what it has done to the world and our country. I think it will remain one of the saddest days of our lives. Our country seemed to rally in the days after that and there was an American fervor like I had never seen with patriotism and oneness. Two decades later, our country is torn in two where I wonder if we will ever be united again.