Today, I have a familiar craving for rocky road ice cream. The same craving I have had every year, on this day, for the last eleven years. On September 11, 2001 – and the days following – I ate a lot of it. So did my roommate, Rachel. We were college students, just beginning our junior year at the University of Southern California, when the planes hit the towers. We were in shock, depressed, hopeless, and we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the news. So other than attending the occasional class (which, in the days following 9/11, were really more like group therapy sessions than anything academic), we holed up in our apartment and ate ice cream.
I’m hard-pressed to remember a lot of specifics from that stretch of time 11 years ago. I remember on the morning of 9/11, I called in sick to my PR internship on the 25th floor of a tower on L.A.’s Miracle Mile – only to find out they sent everyone home anyway for fear that Los Angeles would soon be under attack. I remember Rachel waking me up, crying, telling me to turn on the news and not to leave the house. I remember, dizzy with a head cold, turning on the T.V. and thinking I was dreaming. I remember calling our best friend, Kate, who was on a study abroad program in Australia and desperate to come home. I remember sleepwalking through my classes, and getting into a fight with my theater professor because I couldn’t bring myself to read plays that I was supposed to. I remember lighting candles, and buying an American flag from a vendor on a freeway off ramp and putting it on my car. I remember attending a vigil in front of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles among thousands of other people who were just like us: helpless, confused, struggling to come to terms with what had happened, but desperate to connect and to find a sense of community in our grief.
My story isn’t like a lot of the stories you hear about September 11th. It’s not a story of survival or a story of incredible loss. In a lot of ways, it’s pretty unremarkable. When 9/11 happened, I was just a girl in the process of becoming a woman, when the world got turned upside down.
In the years since that terrible day, there have been many defining moments that have carved our young millennium and have shaped and shaken my adult life: the Iraq war; Hurricane Katrina; the global financial meltdown and the Great Recession; the explosion of social media; the Arab Spring; the election of Barack Obama.
But before all of these things, there was 9/11. An event, that, for all of its horror, also left upon me an indelible impression of the magic that can happen when good comes out of bad, when hope comes out of tragedy. In the days that followed 9/11, I will never, ever forget the overwhelming sense of community, the sense of national pride, the compassion, the kindness I experienced from complete strangers. I haven’t seen anything like it before or since in my lifetime, and I fear I never will again.
How is it that we end up here – eleven short years later – so terribly polarized, so contentious, so bitter and full of hate, so unwilling to empathize with each other and unwilling to work together and compromise to solve the problems that our nation faces? How quickly we forget that we were once all in this together.
Today, as we mark another anniversary of the terrible tragedy of 9/11, I hope, I pray, that we are also reminded of this simple truth: that life is fragile, that it’s beautiful, and that our worlds can be turned upside down in an instant. Why not spend the time we have left being a little bit kinder to one another?
And eating plenty of ice cream.
Until next time, friends.