Friday, September 9, 2011

Remember the Flags: Where I was Sept. 11, 2001

Note: Sorry for going off topic – I just felt this was important to share. I'll be back to normal posts about writing soon :) Share your story with the group below. Cheers!

It was first semester of my senior year at UNH. The Tuesday morning was clear and breezy, with azure skies and that pleasant scholarly feel of the newly returned students bustling around campus in their pajama bottoms, UNH sweatshirts and satchel bags. I was an anthropology major with a journalism minor, enjoying the lazy start to my final year of formal schooling.

I was living off campus in Derry with Jason, who was my fiancé at the time (we’ve since been married for nine and a half years). I drove in for my 7-8:30 anthropology course on … well, I don’t remember exactly, but it had something to do with reading old anthropologists’ field reports – which, let’s be honest, I most likely didn’t.

My mind meandered while my professor, with his melodic African accent, engaged us in debate over which method of cultural observation was more valid in today’s time. Not reading the course material didn’t have any effect on my ability to talk fluently on the pros/cons of Marxism – imagine that. Encased in that sunny third floor classroom on the lower quad, we had no idea that our debate on cultural norms was changing, and that our perspectives were about to shift forever.

After class, I packed up and headed just outside to the bus stop. Campus seemed oddly quiet, and there weren’t a lot of those pajama-clad students milling about. After a minute, an old high-school acquaintance joined me. “Did you hear?” she asked. Since I hadn’t spoken more than twenty words to this girl in three years, I shrugged with an air of nonchalance. “The world is coming to an end,” she said as seriously as a former Miss Teen New Hampshire could.

Confused, I boarded the bus. Everyone was sitting straight on the edges of their seats, completely silent though the driver had cranked up the radio. In the three-minute ride, I ascertained that there had been a few plane crashes in New York City, and that people were being evacuated from some buildings. The student journalist in me saw the importance of the breaking story – for sure – but still wondered why everyone was freaking out. Plane crashes were awful, but they happen. Call it the lazy ambivalence of a student who’d gotten up at 7 am and had yet to have a cup of coffee, but I didn’t see the big deal.

When I got to my car, I called my mom to ask her what was going on. “Get home now,” is all I remember her saying to me. “I don’t care where you are – get home now.”

The next hour was a blur. I only remember snippets. Radio announcers crying. The announcement of the Pentagon crash. The dawning knowledge that these weren’t accidents.

Sometime between Manchester and Nashua, a Pentagon official mentioned that they’d evacuated everyone on his level to the basement – and a vague thought pinged in my head. Despite the numerous X-Files episodes and documentaries I’d seen alleging that the nation’s biggest secrets resided in a basement level in the Pentagon, the official line was that the Pentagon had no basement. Funny the things your mind chooses to remember during times of intense emotion.

When I got home, I called Jason. He was in Boston for the day working on a special project near Newbury Street. He told me everything was fine and that he was safe – I told him if they started evacuating buildings in Boston I wanted him home.

My parents and I were glued to the TV, horrified but unable to look away. People jumped out of windows from far too high. Black smoke roiled. The buildings swayed. The streets themselves seemed to scream in grief. When WTC 1 and 2 finally came down, I was inappropriately struck with how pretty in looked – the glass glittered. Beauty in destruction. Peace in so much tragedy.

The days that followed were a blur. TV blackouts. Shocking images. The first time I’d ever seen newspapers sell out in every single gas station and on every street corner. Overwhelmingly, I wanted to help. I wanted to volunteer at local newspapers, to report and edit and assist them in informing the public any way I could. Jason, a former ROTC boy, even toyed with the idea of joining the National Guard so he could go down there and help at the wreckage sites. But apparently we weren’t alone. Reports poured in about the nation’s generosity – about there being too many blood donations, too many people flooding in to volunteer.

Jason and I decided to do the only thing we could: When Jason was in college, he was a Senate aid in DC and acquired a flag that had for-real flown above the Capitol Building. It was one of his most treasured possessions. We unfolded the massive flag and duck-taped it to the balcony of our apartment. And we weren’t alone.

Don’t feel bad if you are depressed by this 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. These memories and feelings are a part of who we, as a nation and world, have become – and not every memory in life is meant to be happy. I choose to remember all of the flags. Hanging from every front porch. Waving from every solid surface. Whipping off every car. I’ve never before nor since felt more like I was a part of something truly great and larger than myself than I did seeing the togetherness this tragedy thrust upon us. It forced us to come together and to work together and to appreciate one another.

I felt like an American – and it was the proudest I’ve ever felt being identified as such.

I choose to remember the flags.


  1. Amber - This post was beautiful and touching. I also remember the flags. 9/11 is one of those moments in history that everyone remembers where they were. I was watching the morning news and feeding a baby. live in the west so I watched the whole thing live. I still remember the shock in the anchor's voice as he tried to tell the world what had happened. I can't believe it has been 10 years.

  2. Amber, I have goosebumps from this moving post. Thank you for it, and thanks for being so inspiringly you.


Thank you in advance :)