There are certain things that are defining for a generation, defining for a whole society. One of my teachers in grade school told us about when he first heard about the Pearl Harbor attack, and where he was and what he was doing. Another of my teachers from England told us about VE Day.
When the Berlin Wall fell, I was sitting down to dinner with my mom and brother, and we'd watch the news during dinner. I was in the same spot during the LA riots. I was in gym class in high school when Michael Jordan retired. I was in school, like so many other kids, when I heard that the Challenger had exploded.
So now, five years later, I can tell you with deadly accuracy exactly where I was on September 11, 2001. I was sitting around in the student lounge of my medical school after a particularly annoying quiz. We'd finished early and were waiting for lectures to start. A few of us were playing euchre. My friends had been playing ping pong. One of the maintenance people ran in and told us to turn the TV on, and a few minutes after the fact, I learned about the first plane crash into the North tower. We watched just enough television to see the second crash, and then lectures started.
My professor made some offhand comment that we would need to learn to deal with adversity and that classes wouldn't be canceled. I was glad I invested in a cell phone, and I started calling everyone I knew who'd be around the WTC area.
After the lecture, I find out that one of the towers has collapsed. After another hour of lecture, another collapse. I call a med student friend of mine and she's been enlisted into the ER of a local hospital in NYC. But she has plenty of time to talk to me. No one's coming in. The ER is silent. I can hear over the phone, no buzz at all.
Instead of lunch, we all gather in front of the TV and watch the coverage. Several of us are darting in and out of the lounge trying to get better cell phone reception. Our afternoon lectures are canceled. There's no point in trying to teach us more. We're numb.
By the time I get home, they have footage of the exact moments the planes each crash into the towers. They have shots of people jumping to their deaths, preferring to die from suicide rather than burn to death. And they first realize that somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 firefighters are missing or dead. I watch as much CNN as I can stomach for the next 2-3 days, and then I can't watch anymore. I can barely watch cable news even today.
Turns out that everyone I knew in and around the WTC area were all okay. A friend who worked in the WTC didn't work in the towers, and my family was all far away. I visited Ground Zero about a year afterwards, and it was just a hole, and I felt numb. I still feel pretty numb, like it couldn't have happened.
And I still cry when I see those planes crashing into those beautiful buildings, that stood there for just a little longer than Ive been alive. It seems like they were there forever, and I can still remember going to the top three times in my life, and it's sad to know that I'll never see that view again.