Sunday, September 11, 2011

One morning in West Lafayette

One skill that I picked up early on college was the ability to sleep. Now that I didn't have my parents to wake me at the hour of their choosing, I could sleep in just as late as I wanted. Assuming that I didn't have any classes. Tuesday's schedule was my lightest, just one calculus review course which I planned on skipping anyways. There was no homework due, and there was a test scheduled that evening. I studied better on my own. I stayed up fairly late on Monday and was sleeping hard Tuesday morning. My roommate was at class when the phone rang, meaning I had to get out of bed to answer it myself.

It may have been the worst phone call I have ever answered.

The Tuesday in question was ten years ago today, and I had the worst information possible. Jon, my roommate's friend, was on the other end of the line: "Hey, are you watching TV?" No, I had just climbed out of bed. "There are planes crashing all over the place. Two in New York, one in Pennsylvania and one even hit the Pentagon!" How?! "I don't know!" I had to make some calls of my own. Working with that information, less than 2 years after the millennium turned, I immediately thought there was some global computer error bringing down planes. I wasn't told that the two had been flown into the World Trade Center. I thought this was a global catastrophe. I needed to make sure my family was OK. Before even turning on the TV, I phoned home. No answer. Panic stricken and remembering my aunt and uncle's number, I called them and got the machine (I wish they had saved that message. It's the masochist in me that wishes I could have recounted what I said on that machine, exactly). I was three states away from home, I didn't know anyone (it was only my 3rd week at Purdue), and I had no idea what was going on, and I couldn't get a hold of my parents, or anyone back in Minnesota. I had never felt so alone in my life.
Of course, I couldn't get a hold of anyone at home, because it was 10AM on a Tuesday. Everyone was at work. Actually, my dad had the day off, and had gone golfing. He shot the round of his life and still has the ball  he used, scrawled with the date and his score, on a mantle in the family room at my parents' house. It's a surreal reminder of how life was interrupted that day.

My story ends like almost everyone's that day. Well, it ended the same way it ended for the lucky ones, most Midwesterners. I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the news. I don't believe I spoke with my parents at all that day, but as soon as I understood what had happened, that particular fear had been alleviated. I was able to talk to a friend who was going to the University of North Carolina, so I knew that this disaster, at least, wasn't global. Beyond that, my memories of the day grow a little foggy.

The one thing that does stick out in my memory was how, in the days and months afterward, the nation changed and I grew up. Collectively, we realized the pain of others in the world world, and responded with sorrow, rage and eventually compassion. It was a great time for humanity. For once, we were all united, even if it was by this horrible tragedy.

Today is the anniversary of another horrible event. Six months ago, the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan and shocked the world killed 5 times as many people as our tragedy ten years ago. I'm not saying that you should stop grieving and memorializing the victims of the attacks. Far from it. Instead, I am pleading with you all to remember the mutual compassion that bound us in the months following the attack, and remember that there are still others that need our support, in New York, in Washington, in Japan and across the world. This social consciousness was to be the positive result of a horrible event. Please, don't let that escape our grasp.

Oh, and I failed that test.

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