Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11/01 - Hearing the News

I've been thinking about whether I wanted to post anything related to 9/11 today - especially as we'll all be so saturated with images and reports and memorials by the day's end that to do so may be just kind of dumb. But I decided that I did want to post something about it, something unsentimental and true.

It was a gorgeous day. The sky was bright blue and there were little puffy white clouds dotted here and there. I was teaching a 9AM class that fall, and, as usual, I was cutting it very close about arriving on time to school. I was listening to NPR that morning, and I was moving at a snail's pace through campus and cursing at the people in front of me who were letting packs of students cross the road in front of them. The voice in the radio said that they had received a report that a plane had hit one of the WTC towers.

And I turned off the radio.

I assumed it was a little plane that hit the top or something. I didn't want to hear it. I mean sure, it would be sad if somebody died or whatever, but I had to get ready to teach, right? I was trying to figure out the plan for my class, which began in minutes. We were reading Paolo Freire's essay "The Banking Concept of Education" that day. Not an easy essay to teach to freshmen.

I arrived in class, probably a minute or two late, though I'm not really sure about that. None of my students had heard the news either, or if they had, they had heard it in the way that I did and completely blew it off. They had rolled out of bed, and some were still in pajamas, and they were trying to wake themselves up and to discuss this stupid essay that we'd read for class that day, right?

I remember feeling like the class went really well. I remember feeling like there was a good energy by the end, and that the students were really learning.

As I walked back up to my office, I ran into my dissertation adviser. He told me what was happening.

I returned to my office, to my department, and everybody was standing around radios trying to hear what was happening. Ultimately I went home, and then began a solid week of being glued to the television.

For a long time I lied to people and said that the first I'd heard about the planes hitting the towers was from my dissertation adviser. I didn't want to admit that I was so self-absorbed and callous that I just flipped off the radio when they first mentioned what I thought was an "accident." But maybe it's better not to lie. Maybe it's better not to sugar-coat it. Because while what happened on 9/11 was horrible, 364 days out of the year most of us don't think twice about it. We're absorbed with our own stuff, and we'll turn off the radio (or the tv, or whatever) rather than be bothered by unpleasant news. So. That's it, I guess. Not exactly a post to be proud of, but maybe something worth posting anyway.


helenesch said...

I had a somewhat similar experience (though wasn't teaching and eventually did turn the news on). My mom called from her car to tell me about how a plane hit the WTC. I assumed she was overreacting and that it wasn't such a big deal. But out of curiousity I did turn the radio on... I also then drove into my dept., where I had a meeting scheduled. As it turns out, I'm very glad I didn't stay home, as that would have felt terribly isolating at such a scary time.

prefer not to say said...

But what you just posted (and what helenesch said in reply too) is historically very important -- on 9/11/01, at 9:00 AM EST, none of us could conceive of anything being that bad, that threatening, that scary. A few people dying was about as far as we could take it, and, yeah, that wasn't anything to stop class for.

Whatever it's ethical content (selfishness? apathy? overwhelming grad school anxiety?) it was also about a certain historical moment.

Cats & Dogma said...

My experience was eerily similar...listening on NPR--they had just cut to the reaction from the pentagon when that plane hit there--and switching it off, muttering something like..."those bastards" referring to the administration, not the terrorists (it wasn't quite clear that they were terrorists yet.

Since we were in the DC metro area, cell phones were already flipping open all over the place, concerned parents checking on thier kids...

Still, i didn't think much of it, little enough, for example, to use the news as a hypothetical example in a TA pedagogy meeting I ran that day...watching the response of one TA who had not heard yet jolted me back, but I still harbor the same little bit of shame for what can only be described as a jaded initial that only underscored how silly the jaded posture really is...

Flavia said...

I think yours was actually a very common reaction, and not one to be embarrassed about. I called my parents around 10 or 10.30 a.m. Eastern (they're on the west coast, so they'd only just gotten up), semi-hysterical, to tell them what had happened. By then the news had come about the Pentagon, as well, and I told them this, even saying, "it's not an accident; they say it's a terrorist attack."

But even so, my parents told me that they still didn't think much of it--they turned on the television when I told them to, but they were busy getting ready for work and it wasn't until an hour or two later that they fully realized what had happened.

Frankly, I think that I would have had the same reaction, had I not lived in New York and once worked 2 blocks from the Trade Center. It was that sense of local interest, rather than some apprehension of the national or international significance of the event, that grabbed me when I first heard the radio reports.