I remember where I was when I heard. I was a freshman in college at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. My roommate and I were both running late for chapel and as we were heading down the stairs of our dorm, another student said something in passing about "the plane crash." We both went back to our room and saw the first newsflashes.
I remember chapel being a mess. No one knew what was going on or how to act. For possibly the first time in my life I wanted to watch the news and keep up with what was happening but Harding in its infinite wisdom decided it was more important to continue on with chapel and the day's classes. I am still a bit angry by this institutional choice to try to make that day as normal as possible. Because it wasn't normal and we shouldn't have pretended it was.
I remember wanting to watch the news for the first time ever. I can't remember the exact time line but by the time I got out of my first class (which was a complete disaster; the professor cried through the whole class, making Art Appreciation an even bigger waste of time than normal), I'm pretty sure we knew it was a terrorist attack and both of the towers had fallen. I generally hate the news and don't really keep up with world events but on that day I couldn't think of anything else. I skipped class for the rest of the day (along with EVERYONE ELSE) in order to keep up.
I remember the scene in the school's student center. It wasn't completely silent but it was pretty close. Huge groups settled in around the televisions and by the time the lunch hours rolled around, the place was packed. Eventually my roommate and I headed back to our dorm to watch the news in a smaller group.
I remember President Bush's speech. I've never given a rip about politics and I do not exercise my right to vote not because of some belief or principle but because of general apathy. Even still, the speech that Bush delivered was incredible. He was calm and collected but he was firm and compassionate, the symbol of strength that all of us, regardless of political believe, needed to see. I cried a little.
I remember not knowing what in the world to do or how to act. No one trains you for you should react to a terrorist attack. How long do you have to be sad and when is it acceptable to start going back to normal? That's where a lot of the rest of this list comes in.
I remember Conan O'Brien's first show. A lot of people remember David Letterman's first show back after 9/11 but I've always been a loyal Conan guy. At that time, I did two things every weekday without fail: I took a nap and I watched Conan. During his run at NBC, Conan had a number of episodes that showed what a truly professional, thoughtful, and caring person he really is (the Black Out ep, his final ep on the Tonight Show, etc.) but no moment was more significant than his opening monologue on September 18. He gave an incredible speech while at the same time staying true to who he was which made it so much more impactful. He wasn't putting on a show but rather speaking from the heart. And at the end he told us it was okay to laugh a little despite the terrible events of the past week. I cried some but then I laughed. It was a turning point for a lot of people in my generation.
I remember football coming back. The NFL took the week of 9/11 off, obviously, but they came back the following weekend to play a game. A great deal was made about "showing the terrorists that they can't disrupt our lives" and if that works for you, fine. But for me, football coming back was a further step in the process of recovery and more importantly, it was an incredible and moving distraction. We needed sport more than ever before in my lifetime.
I remember Saturday Night Live. I wasn't the faithful SNL watcher then that I am now but that episode was a much watch. At the beginning Paul Simon played his famous song "The Boxer" surrounded by some of New York City's finest and after it, Lorne Michaels turned to Rudy Giuliani and simply asked, "Can we be funny?" to which Rudy replied, "Why start now?" Quite honestly, the episode was, in fact, not funny but it didn't matter. Much like what Conan did on his show, Lorne and his crew made it clear that while we would always remember what happened, it was alright to begin the process of moving on.
I remember the video for Ryan Adams' "New York New York." I had barely heard of Ryan Adams at that time but when his video came on vh1 late one night while I was studying, I was glued to the screen. Shot only days before 9/11, it is one of the last pieces of film to feature the Twin Towers before their destruction. One of my favorite songs from an artist who's become on of my favorites, "New York New York" was a touching tribute.
I remember President Bush's first pitch in the World Series. Like every one else who isn't from New York and has a lick of sense, I hate the Yankees and I actively rooted against the Yanks in the 2001 World Series. But when President Bush stepped out before Game 3 of the series to throw out the opening pitch...total goosebumps. And then he NAILED the pitch. Say what you will about W but to throw a strike under that kind of pressure with a massive bullet proof vest strapped to his chest...that's impressive.
I remember chapel a few days after the attacks. I'll be honest when I say I really disliked chapel for the majority of my time at Harding. I had a lot of issues with what took place and the number of times I wanted to scratch my eyes out FAR outnumbered the times I actually had a meaningful experience. But a few days after the attacks, our service was led by a guy who was in the Reserves and whose unit had been called up to go to Afghanistan. He would ship out within a few days. I do not remember his name nor what he said but I remember the gist of his presentation was a call to hold dear the freedoms we have in this country and to know that those freedoms are worth fighting for. And he, too, told us to return to normalcy as best we could. It was important to hear that message from Conan and to see it displayed by the NFL and MLB but it was equally important to hear it from a service man, a guy who would very soon be manning the front lines of battle and had more right than others to demand that we continue our solemn behaviors. That was a key for me and I believe many others.