On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was sitting in my 8 a.m. music history class. The class met every Tuesday and Thursday and, as is often the case with 8 a.m. classes, was often dry as dust. All of us in the class were upper-level music majors and had the same basic schedule.
I remember that day was clear and gorgeous. The sky was that perfect, crystalline blue that comes to Southeast Texas every fall for a few weeks, then disappears for another year. Our music history class had ended and we were waiting for the next class to start. The sunlight was streaming in through the windows and we were all just chatting, trading stories across the room, when one of the student assistants ran into the room.
"Someone attacked the World Trade Center," he blurted out. "A plane flew into one of the towers and then another one. They're saying another one hit something in Washington." He ran out of the room.
The class was silent for a few seconds, then the conversation started again. We had no idea what we had just heard. The guy who came in (who is now a top-level administrator for fine arts education) was known as something of a jokester, but none of us really thought it was a joke; we just had no idea what was going on. A few minutes later the department chair, who taught the 9:30 class, came in and told us what had happened and said he was canceling morning classes.
My car wouldn't start. We had to have it towed to a place to get a new starter put in. I cried the whole day; the TV kept showing images of people falling (or jumping) from the towers as they burned beneath them. The mechanic who worked on the car kept nodding at me and saying, "Don't worry, we'll get 'em."
It took about a week for things to get "back to normal" at Lamar University in Beaumont, but all of us who remember that day know that things have never gotten back to normal, not like it was the day before. We were all adjusting to a new normal, a normal in which we were living with the knowledge that we were just as vulnerable as anyone anywhere. In the petrochemical industrial area (where I have lived just about all of my life) we began to realize that not only were we vulnerable, we were potential targets. And there was nothing we could do about it.
That being said, it was a surprisingly short time before we were able to laugh again, and enjoy the things we always have. Everything changed, but we survived. It's hard to believe that the students I teach don't remember that day clearly. The world has always been the post-9/11 world to them. I wonder if they will ever understand the fundamental change we all went through that beautiful morning.
I wonder if I do.
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