What Most Americans Do on 9/11

I wonder how long after December 7, 1941 that Americans stopped remembering what exactly they had been doing after they heard the news.

I suppose it was a generation or more.

9/11 has certainly become that date for me. I wasn’t born when JFK was assassinated, so there wasn’t a particular date that always made me remember a vivid event in history. That is until 9/11 – and I wasn’t even in the United States that day.

We were living in our small, two-story cement house on the outskirts of the sleepy college town of Thai Nguyen, Vietnam – north of Hanoi about sixty miles.

It was in the evening, and we weren’t doing anything particularly memorable, perhaps watching a video or something. Someone from our office in Hanoi called me and asked, “Have you heard the news?” I hadn’t. He said, “Turn the news on, something terrible has happened in America.” It was a strange call, for sure, and I can’t remember what exactly he had told me. But I got on our computer, and dialed up our connection, and I still remember the image slowly loading from CNN.com – the attack, the shocking-ness of it, the misinformation, the confusion, and feeling incredibly isolated to what America was actually feeling.

We kept gathering together the tid-bits of info that we could, never feeling like we could get enough, and not having the minute-by-minute shock that the rest of America felt.

The next day as I was out and about in our Vietnamese university setting, what struck me were the dozens of sincere words and phrases of sympathy that all my Vietnamese friends and neighbors out-poured to me. It was beautiful, actually, and meant a lot.

Over the next few months, we learned more and more about what 9/11 had done to America, and how it had paralyzed the entire nation. I kept telling our family back in the states to save the news broadcasts so that we can watch them when we come home. A year later we did watch all that we could just to get a better understanding of the tremendous impact that we had not experienced.

I’ll never forget the phone call, the images, the buzz around our campus, and the heart-felt reaction from our lovely friends. But it will always be a different experience than my fellow Americans experienced at the time.

Either way, 9/11 is the date that will define an entire generation.

Can anyone else really believe that it was 14 years ago?

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