Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where I Was

On Monday September 10th, 2001 I was knee deep in red tape. The real red tape that was wrapped around letters from Freedman’s Bureau agents in Kentucky to their superiors. I was helping Dr. M with his dissertation research in the National Archives in Washington, DC. Our strategy was to flag all of the interesting documents and then come back the next day to make copies. The stories I read made me want to weep – these agents used the word “outrages” to describe what was happening to former slaves in post Civil War Kentucky. These stories became the backbone of what I consider to be a pretty powerful work about the plight of freed people in Kentucky.

Tuesday morning, September 11th, as we prepared to leave our Maryland extended stay to spend the day making copies, we didn’t turn on the television. In the car on the way to the nearest Red Line metro station we listened to a music CD. And as we grew ever more frustrated with traffic and full metro parking lots, we just thought it was a part of the mania of Washington DC at rush hour. Finally, we gave up trying to get on the Red Line and decided just to drive down the Potomac and maybe stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial to take in the view. After that, we hoped to get parked at a Virginia metro station. We weren’t in a particular hurry, as the Archives stays open late on Tuesdays. However, I was feeling rather desperate to go, so we pulled off into a park where I could use the facilities.

I sprinted off & did my thing. Walking back to the car I saw a curious sight. Dr. M was sitting in one of our folding chairs watching one of the park rangers go through our car trunk. Let me just be a little politically incorrect here: as a college educated white couple with ordinary hair, no visible tattoos or strange piercings and respectable (if off the rack) clothing, we were not generally a target for random searches. This was a thorough search.

I asked Dr. M what was going on & he just shrugged. I asked the park ranger & he said that he couldn’t really tell me but that I should listen to the radio. “Listen to the radio!!” So after he finished with the trunk, and while Dr. M had his turn with the facilities, I got in the car and turned on the radio. And listened.

We didn’t go back to the National Archives that day. We checked out of our hotel and headed home. Not home to Ohio, but home to North Carolina to be with our families. I think we may have been in shock, a bit, but we were aware enough to notice the eerie silent skies above us.

In the last ten years I’ve run the gamut of emotions: patriotic fervor, worry & dread, horror at how innocent people were treated. I applauded war and abhorred war. I wanted retribution and I cringed from the actions of retribution. Deep down at my core I just want everyone to get along. Can’t we all just get along? Sigh. I guess not, and that makes me sad. I know, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing it was.

So in the end I’m left with feeling sad as I hold my little flag and listen to God Bless America during one more 7th inning stretch. How about, God bless us, every one? No?

This past week Dr. M met with the parents of Alicia Nicole Titus, who was a flight attendant on the jet that was flown into the South Tower. They have established a fund in her name which honors her life by promoting a culture of peace. If you’d like to read about Alicia, her parents or the fund – and perhaps contribute – click here

If you'd like to read the Christmas poem that Dr. M wrote that year, click here.


  1. Thank you for this beautiful post and excellent song choice. So you were right here in DC?

    I, too, didn't listen to the radio as I set off to go to work. I had been talking to a friend about the Civil War and how brave (or crazy) soldiers must be to willingly walk onto a battlefield. His TV was on, he said, "Oh. Looks like a plane hit the WTC." We finished and phone call, I got in my car. I, too, was thinking that the traffic was completely out of hand. When I arrived at work (Whole Foods in Tenleytown), the store was closed; everyone was watching a tiny TV in prepared foods. My colleagues turned to me and said, "The second one just fell."

    Holy cow I can't believe it has been ten years. Jesus.

  2. I love that you chose this song. It really does capture the mood of those first days.

  3. I can't imagine what it was like for those who were right there on the street. That day was a shock for all of matter where we were or what we were doing. We happened to be out of town on business and could not get a flight back home. We spent the following three days driving home, so we did not see any TV until we returned home. Even 10 years it so hard to believe...and so very sad.

  4. It seems like only yesterday, doesn't it? I was watching the news as it all unfolded. It was devastating.

  5. Thank you Bug. Important things to remember here.
    And how casually we treat our days, until.

  6. Thanks for sharing your account of how that day went for you. In England we were somewhat removed from the physicality of it but the images on TV were, and still are, shocking. It was the early afternoon in the UK when it happened and I was at work. At first, it seemed like it was just and accident and I was talking on the phone about to my hubs at home. In the background I could hear the TV and heard about that second plane. One plane was an accident, but two? We were shocked - even more so when not one but both towers fell. A good friend of mine's brother was in the second tower. They were about to evacuate after the first crash, but the tannoy told everyone to remain calm and that they were safe as it had been the other tower that was hit. His colleagues went back to their desks, but he was spooked and left the building. He was on the ferry, looking back at his workplace, when the second plane struck it, just below his office. None of his colleagues made it. I guess there are loads of such stories about today.

  7. wow. i dont know if the memories of that day and where we were will ever fade you know from reading...i was in the air and it all became surreal very fast...

  8. Thank you for these memories. The poem was very meaningful as well.

  9. Hadn't heard that song for a while - nice version. And thanks for your blessing for us all too - an important difference.


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