My first English class at a university in Finland was just wrapping up in the computer lab. One of my students turns to me and says,”Some plane just hit the World Trade Center”. My first thought was, “What is the World Trade Center?” and the second thought was, “Class isn’t over, why is this guy surfing”. I just figured it must have been some accident, closed up class and went to my office.
I went to the news on my computer, not unusual for me because I do it to relax. Whoa! At that point in time the whole world turned upside down. It was a little after 5:30 pm my time and 10:30 am in New York.
The next week my worplace was centered around this event. For example, in my technical English class we looked at how the two towers could have collapsed from an engineering standpoint. Some of my international colleagues came up to me and expressed their sympathies. I put an American flag decal on my office door at half mast (Unfortunately, an American colleague came by and told me, “You can’t put things on your door.” I thought that was kind of crass given the circumstances.)
By October, when we invaded Afghanistan, the mood in my office started to turn. A German colleague asked me, “What is Bush doing!?” Somehow he didn’t understand our response. It didn’t get any better when in the new year we started going after Iraq.
Yet, in the summer of 2002 I returned to the USA for a visit and was impressed by the patriotism I saw. There were flags everywhere. The country seemed unified. I had read how people had gone back to church and prayed after the planes hit. I could see firsthand the change the event had wrought in my country.
Fast forward to 2009. As Pat Buchanan notes in his column this week, Americans are at war with each other. September 11 is a distant memory. And actors are demanding audiences with President Obama to discuss their assertions that George Bush planned the whole thing.
I don’t know why exactly, but I have never left 911 behind. My feelings are still too raw to watch the movies which have been produced about it. And I love movies! Perhaps it is because I was going through a bit of culture shock at the time, my country was going through an event that has changed us forever, and I wasn’t there. I never really got to grieve like most Americans and move on.
I visited the Normandy beaches with my oldest son a few years back, and I realized that enough time had passed for me to see it as history, not something that happened to my elders, flesh and blood people I knew. I don’t have this perspective about September 11, 2001. Not yet.