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?

Vietnam gets ahold and doesn’t let go

I’m currently in my ninth year of living in Malaysia, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. But there is something still that pulls on my heart when I think about the nearly ten years I lived in Vietnam.

I think part of the pull is that my kids’ formative years were lived in Vietnam. We were immersed in the culture, learning the language, living in community, trying to blend in as much as possible – which was utterly impossible.

This photo illustrates how we lived.2014-07-14 20.19.48I’m sure it’s not hard to pick out my little blonde second daughter. She’s being held by one of her friends (who’s still a friend on Facebook. That fact alone makes me shake my head. There were no computers in Vietnam when I moved there).

My kids had the run of the neighborhood. Every family knew them well. At one point, my three kids aged 9, 5, and 3 would unlock our door in the morning and walk down the road to eat breakfast at a stall all by themselves. Mom and Dad slept.

Did we ever worry?

Not at all. Every single one of our neighbors (and there were many of them) would have done anything for our kids. We all looked after everyone else. The sense of community was special. I really miss that about Vietnam.

Here’s the whole neighborhood gang in front of our house.

2014-07-14 20.22.04I will always treasure those days. They weren’t always easy, but I learned so much.

In reality, they were the training ground for me as a writer.

Vietnam doesn’t release its grip so easily.