From reading my Facebook feed, I know that a lot of my friends, classmates and former colleagues back in New York City felt extremely overwhelmed by the news coverage of 9/11. Living abroad, however, I felt disconnected from all the ceremonies and events meant to mark the 10th anniversary. I wanted to do something to observe the day, but was at a loss until I found out that this year’s Daniel Pearl Music Day was on Sunday.
In the weeks after 9/11, I started collecting newspaper and magazine clippings. I was a junior in college and obviously having a family was still a long way off, but I told my friends that I wanted my kids to have a sense of how things felt in New York during the weeks and months after the attacks. In hindsight, however, I was trying to comprehend everything that was happening around me and obsessively clipping news articles and saving covers seemed like one way to do it.
On the morning of 9/11, I woke up early, probably because of the beautiful, clear sunlight that was streaming through the windows above my bed. Everything felt so bright and fresh. I was excited because my new laptop had finally arrived at the mail room and my philosophy seminar was starting that day. I felt so fancy, having a new computer after my last one had burned out in the middle of writing a finals paper and I always loved walking into a new class and getting freshly photocopied syllabuses. Then I turned on my television and saw reports that a plane had hit the first tower. I thought an amateur pilot had lost control of his or her aircraft. I was editing our school’s newspaper and called one of the reporters to see if she could write a small item for our U.S. and world news round-up column because “everyone on campus is in such a bubble they’ll probably have no idea” even though we were just a 20-minute train ride north of the city. Almost immediately after I put down the phone, I watched the impact of the second plane on TV.
I felt like an automaton the rest of the day. I passed classmates collapsed on the lawn, sobbing and dialing their cell phones over and over again as they desperately tried to reach family members who worked in lower Manhattan. After an open request by student affairs, I went into their office and volunteered my dorm room to anyone who lived in the city and couldn’t get back home. I walked down to the mail room to pick up my computer. Classes were canceled for the rest of the day. My body propelled me forward, though I had no idea what to do, say or even feel. The only time I managed to snap out of it was when my housemate and I were sitting in my room, watching the news, and heard the roar of fighter jets flying low overhead. We stared at each other, mutely panicking.
But the feeling came back and seemed to settle in, even when I went into the city a few days later to lay flowers at the impromptu memorial in Union Square. My friend and I took the subway down to City Hall and the acrid smell of the burning rubble filled our nostrils as soon as we emerged from the station.
For months afterward, the Metro-North station next to our school was covered in missing posters. Sometimes I would look at the faces in each photo, wondering who I might have walked past in the drugstore or taken the same train into the city with. I knew I was supposed to be sad but I felt so blank. I wondered what was wrong with me.
A few years later, I started my first journalism job at the Wall Street Journal Online. Our offices were in the World Financial Center overlooking Ground Zero. On one floor, there was a bronze plaque mounted on the wall in honor of Daniel Pearl. In the days leading up to his murder, I had logged onto news Web sites over and over again, hoping to hear that he had been rescued or released. Every time I saw the plaque, I wondered if I was worthy of working at the same place he had.
In Taiwan, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and Daniel Pearl Music Day coincided with the weekend before the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節). My friends and I ate pomelos and wore their peels on our heads, a holiday tradition. My friend’s little girl stole my sandals and my heart (I got the shoes back). While David Chen and the Muddy Basin Ramblers played, members of Taipei Swing (台北搖擺) launched into an impromptu routine. Everything made for a strange but uplifting combination.
Back home, I watched the reading of the names; one of the readers was a mother of a college classmate, there to represent her husband, my classmate’s dad. It took 10 years, but I finally truly feel the horror of that day and the horror of everything that happened afterward around the world. For everyone affected by 9/11, please know that I keep you in my thoughts. I always do, not just on anniversaries, and I know “a decade ago” is every day for you.