I was a Fourth year at the University of Virginia on September 11, 2001. It was a gorgeous early fall day in Charlottesville and I was getting ready to go to my internship job at the Leadership Development Center. I was lucky to have a TV in my bedroom that year and I always watched The Today Show when I was up early enough.
Everyone knows what happened that morning.
I just remember having a lump in my throat and feeling like life was happening in slow motion as I drove across town to the office. The sky was quiet, perfectly blue, and in the span of 30 minutes it seemed as though the layers of earth had shifted. I remember seeing the Director’s face when I got into the office. He was about my parents’ age and the grief was obvious, the fear was real. We went through the motions of work for a bit and then called it a day.
About a week later, I would drive home to hug my dear friend and go on a long walk with a small group of friends from high school, though many I’d known since kindergarten. We sat atop a hill along the George Washington Parkway, overlooking the Potomac River and after a few minutes of sitting in relative silence, a bald eagle flew overhead. It was majestic, devastating, and beautiful. My friends’ dad had been in a meeting at the Pentagon the morning of September 11th and over time the worst would be confirmed. A day after our walk, my dad would hand me $100 in cash as I got back in the car to drive back to school. There would be firefighters lining the streets of Alexandria and then all along Route 29 S and by the time I got back to my apartment, my wallet would be empty. It was all I knew to do.
Although life kept moving for me and my friends, I know time stood still for my dear friend and her family and I wish I had had the presence of mind and maturity to be there in the hollow times as the months and years passed. What I do know is that my classmates and I, my peers from high school who were graduating from other schools that coming spring, and most young adults my age were galvanized for good and for long stretches of time sought out ways to help, to sacrifice, to give, to relax, and to be together in a way we otherwise may never have cared about.
I’ve tried to remind myself of the ultimate sacrifice that so many men and women my age made in the coming years as we went to war. Sometimes I get busy in suburbia and forget. Other times I seek out as many details as I can to feel closer to people I’ve never known, who’ve traveled across the world to defend freedom, sometimes in battles that had very little support back home. It was simply a call to duty. For generations we will be repairing the psychological and physical wounds of these soldiers and contractors and consultants and translators. As I think about today, I think about them and all of the people who lost a loved one in an instant.
I mostly think about my friend.