I remember where I was.
The morning was perfect. Sun filled the sky, speckled with the right amount of perfect, white clouds. There was a quiet wind blowing through the warm, September air. Everything about the day felt like the first glimpse of fall that comes at the tail of a scorching summer.
I was a student at James Madison University and I lived on campus. I can’t remember the walk to class, but I can remember the anxious feeling that I got when I walked into the building, the feeling that something was off. There was a hush that accompanied the scuffled feet in the halls and when I reached the door to my classroom, there was a note stuck on the window of the door.
“Go home, call your families.”
The door to the classroom next to mine was open and I looked in. A professor and two students were close together across the room, engrossed in what looked like a private conversation. I walked out of the building and back towards my dorm.
My walk back was far different from my walk to class. The air felt more still and anyone that I passed seemed to have their heads down. When I reached the dorm, I could hear the TVs, the sound accumulating from all of the open doors down the hall, all speaking the same words. My roommate was sitting on the floor and I looked at her crying, then turned to the TV. Within minutes, something, which we later found out was a second plane, hit the world trade center.
Cell phones weren’t very common to have, especially for college students, so the landlines were all we had and no one was getting through. One girl, from down the hall, had her own cell phone and I can remember 20 of us taking turns trying to call home over and over, until finally a line would connect.
Until that day, terrorism was not in my vocabulary, at least not when it related to home. The fear in my father’s voice when we finally spoke will never leave me. My dad was always strong and I could hear the panic in his words.
“Do not try to come home. If anything happens, we will come to you. Do not come this way.”
Memories of that day are so vivid and real. I will never forget my heart beating in my throat as I walked back to my room, the unreal fog that came over me as I saw it all unravel on TV and the panic I felt for people so close to the sites. But that day, in the middle of all of the chaos and great sadness, not just at Ground Zero, but all over the world, I saw the power of courage and love and of people, one by one, working together. It has changed my life and although I’m just one person, like so many others, I’ll use everything I’ve got to pay it forward. I have faith in others to do the same.
The article below is part of a post on James Madison University’s website describing the events on campus just after September 11, 2001. Read more at http://www.jmu.edu/stories/2012/sept-11-jmu-remembers.shtml.
A Time of Caring
JMU remembers the horror of 9/11.
“He, I feel, is lost and probably not to be found.” JMU President Linwood Rose received that message shortly after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. It was from the wife of his friend and Madison alumnus Bruce Simmons (’83) who worked in one of the Twin Towers. So much was lost that day: family members, friends, a sense of security. Yet, we can find our best selves in times of tragedy as evidenced by the ways the Madison community responded in the hours and days following the attack. In a time of evil, people found the way to“Be the Change” by choosing goodness.
Sept. 11, 2001
At the instigation of junior Rob Rixmann and senior Jeff Nicholson, students gathered on The Commons Tuesday evening for a vigil following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon earlier in the day. The crowd grew to 2,000 by word of mouth and a few posters. They shared testimonies and sang to help others cope with the tragedy. ”Two hours later they were still talking outside D-Hall,“ said Father John Grace, head of Campus Interfaith Ministries.
Sept. 14, 2001
The Wilson Hall bells tolled for the lost and grieving at noon on Friday, as thousands of professors, students and staff members assembled quietly on the Quad for a moment of reflection and then disbursed just as quietly.
Sept. 15, 2001
On Saturday at the Convocation Center, 800 students turned out to donate blood, and many had to be turned away. “I’m giving [blood] today since I can’t be there [in New York City] digging through the wreckage with the rescue teams,” said Amy Leidheiser (’02) of Richmond. “This is my way of helping the families of the victims, my way of contributing as an American.” Harrisonburg resident Raven Pitsenbarger added: “There was a call for nursing assistants and I wanted to go, but people filled the positions in only five hours. I guess that just goes to show how dedicated people are to helping out, even if they aren’t living right next door.”
Sept. 18, 2001
SGA President David Mills, JMU President Linwood H. Rose and Coordinator of Interfaith Campus Ministries John Grace joined the JMU community on Sunday at the Convocation Center in “A Time of Caring,” “I’ve heard numerous reports of faculty who set aside their lectures and instead focused on the needs of anxious, at times angry and unsure, students,” he said. “I’ve witnessed counselors and psychologies who dropped their normal work responsibilities and channeled their expertise and their energy to the service of others. I’ve seen students consoling other students, worried about the safety of their loved ones.” Father John Grace then spoke about the human bond that connected JMU to the tragedy. “ I think all of us were overwhelmed, not just about our own personal relationships, but about all those other human beings out there who slowly but surely we were calling brothers and sisters. Suddenly we foresaw in the faces of strangers our own faces. They are our own.”