A few weeks ago, my sister treated me to tickets for the Dixie Chicks, at the Minnesota State Fair. I heard recently that the music we listen to when we are 19 and 20 is the music that resonates most deeply with our souls.
“Goodbye Earl,” and “Wide Open Spaces,” brought lots of memories back. This weekend as news agencies reflect on the anniversary of September 11, 2001. I’m likewise reliving memories of being twenty.
Fifteen years ago.
It was a beautiful blue-sky Tuesday morning in Duluth, I was a Junior at the University of Minnesota- Duluth. I was happy that my “Advanced Writing For Education and Human Service Professions,” class was meeting outside that morning. We were about 25 future teachers, coaches, and speech pathologists, an empathetic group of men and women, most of us 20 or 21 years old.
We sat in a semi circle, two rows one above and one below. A little after the official start time 8:00AM our instructor brought out her canvas bag and passed it around. It was filled with twizzlers and oreos. A paper had recently been published, explaining that the brain needs sugar in order to process new information. Our professors, educators of education took this seriously. Many of the CEHSP instructors would bring sweet treats to class. Not that we, almost children still, minded having twizzlers for breakfast.
The night before, our instructor, had rented “Saving Private Ryan,” from Video Village. So today we were discussing the military and war. Several of my classmates were either in the National Guard, the Reserves or the Air Force R.O.T.C. She was a pacifist, I think I was too.
During our outdoor class session we were interrupted periodically by the noise. A truck drove through campus, a group of loud freshmen walked through the courtyard. In the last half hour of class we were interrupted three times by Air Force jets flying low over campus. The Air National Guard flew out of the Duluth airport and in order to fly east needed the air space above the University.
Class ended and my buddy Kelley and I walked into the Kirby Student Center, laughing at how little we discussed writing or composition in “Advanced Composition” class. I was scheduled to “table” for our campus organization, to meet new students and share about the work we were doing on campus. We were in the second week of school and trying to meet new students.
My best friend Rachel was already at the table. Her red hair was pulled back, her thin face was pulled into a frown of worry. Still in a silly mood from joking with Kelley, I gave Rachel a smile and tried to cheer her up with a joke about one of the Seniors she thought was cute.
“I was watching the Today Show this morning…” she paused.
My friends and I had developed a few group obsessions: The Today Show, Diet Coke, E.R., Old Navy, and hiking along Chester Creek topped the list.
She continued, “Two planes hit each of the towers of the World Trade Center, I think that we might be going to war.”
I was confused, war was not something that I thought about, even coming from a class where we had spent the last 90 minutes discussing the military. Through an accident of birth, I had inherited a relatively conflict free childhood. I was born after Vietnam, I was more aware of the Berlin Wall coming down than I was of the Cold War, and I was only a fourth grader during the first Gulf War. War was an abstract idea to be discussed while eating Twizzlers in September sunshine. It was an idea, something ancient and awful.
A few minutes later, Whipple, my sophomore roommate, a member of the R.O.T.C. walked by. It was her 21st birthday. The thought of my quirky roommate going to war was too much for me and I started to cry, as I saw more and more friends with Military backgrounds I cried harder.
The TV was on the news non-stop. We prayed, we cried, we filled the tanks of our cars with gas, fearful that the prices would shoot up immediately.
In 2002, in response to the attacks of 9/11, twenty two different federal agencies and departments were merged into the Department of Homeland Security. Their website says:
The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cyber-security analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear – keeping America safe.
Five years ago.
The Juniors at UMD in 2011, were in fourth grade on 9/11. In 2011, my baby cousin is a Freshman at UMD, playing club hockey and majoring in business.
Whipple and I graduated from seminary with best-friend Rachel’s husband in June of 2011.
I had been married for two months when the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 was marked. Just before our wedding Rachel gives birth to twins. They are the youngest guests at our wedding.
My husband is an immigrant, he came to Minnesota first on a student visa, later stayed on with two work visas. When we were first engaged in early 2011, we flew to Jamaica to visit his family. On our way home we had a layover at O’Hare and went through customs and immigration there. Since we were not married, Richard needed to go through the foreign nationals line while I went through the line for US citizens. After clearing immigration, I grabbed our luggage and waited for Richard to join me before we went through customs. I waited for a few hours, we missed our flight. Richard was detained for just over an hour by Department of Homeland Security personnel needing to verify his work visa and his newest passport. We missed our connecting flight back to Minneapolis, and spent an emotional and cold night in baggage claim at O’Hare.
When we married, Richard was eligible for permanent residency and we set about applying for his green card. We gathered pictures of our wedding day, our dating years and our married life so far. We wrote narratives of our love story. We collected documents that showed that we lived in the same apartment, shared responsibility for utility bills and had our employers vouch for the fact that we had jobs with reasonable income. Three inches of paper bound together by our lawyer went into a large envelope.
I wrote two checks on Sunday, September 11, 2011 for $1070 and $420 to the department of Homeland Security. As I sat in my living room with my check book in hand and the tributes playing on NBC I thought to myself, “This is SO WEIRD!!! What does my marriage have to do with September 11? What does my sweet husband have to do with Al Qaeda? How will DHS knowing the details of my first kiss with my husband keep America safe?”
The Juniors at UMD today were in Kindergarten on 9/11. They have few memories of a pre-9/11 world. The building that I lived in as a Junior fifteen years ago has been torn down. My baby cousin has graduated from UMD and is doing well as a dog owner and business woman. I am no longer a young adult in the 18-34 category, but have slid into “middle age” 35-49. Rachel’s twins are five years old and full of personality and enthusiasm.
The conditions on Richard’s green card have been removed, we can re-apply for a new green card in a few years, or we can apply for the citizenship test. I don’t know what we’ll decide yet.
I know several people who have served in the military Iraq and Afghanistan. None of my friends were killed in action, but their time away has been a significant strain in their families, and a significant stressor to their mental health. I am grateful that their lives have been spared and at the same time I grieve that they have been deployed (some several times). Several friends have been drawing attention to veteran mental health lately, notably, participating in the 22 push up challenge, raising awareness of the 22 US military veterans who die by suicide each day.
I also know several people who have been impacted by continuing islamophobia that has only increased over the past fifteen years. Friends who are practicing Muslims are impacted, but so too are other friends whose features put them in racially ambiguous categories, those from South Asia or the Middle East and multi-racial friends and family born in the United States.
Fifteen years later, I grieve the lives lost on 9/11. I grieve the moral, spiritual, physical and psychological injury that our military members have experienced in their deployments. I grieve the racism and hatred that continues to separate the world into “us and them.”
Fifteen years later, I am grateful that I have freedom of expression, and I lament oppression and injustice in the land of the free.
Fifteen years later I am not sure how we “should,” mark the anniversary of 9/11, but I do know that it is a day that changed so much in our world and the ways that we have reacted to that change have changed the world even more.
Fifteen years later, I have lots of memories, but I still don’t know how to remember.