When time stands still…

394261 14: A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

394261 14: A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Last year, one of my regular readers spoke of seeing a bunch of military tanks practicing for a martial law takeover. In America, I am hearing of an increasing number of incidents like this. I try to avoid the news, but there’s an increasing and unavoidable sense of panic that our nation may be on the brink of a removal of all our freedoms as martial law becomes the norm rather than the exception. It’s very frightening.

But what I really want to talk about is the feeling of unreality and dissociation that accompanies seeing something like what my reader did.  She said when she saw the tanks, she felt as if she was dreaming. It didn’t seem real to her. I know that feeling, and I think almost everyone who is old enough knows that feeling: it happened on September 11, 2001.

I think just about everyone remembers exactly what they were doing the moment it happened. I’m not sure of the psychological reasons why whenever there is a major historical disaster — JFK or MLK getting shot and killed…Pearl Harbor…The Challenger disaster…9/11 — we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing with unusual clarity. It’s as if our mind takes a picture at the moment we hear or see bad news.

Here’s how I remember 9/11. It’s hard to believe it was 15 years ago, because my memory of it is so clear and sharp edged. Yet I can’t remember what I had for breakfast that morning.

That day was a brilliant and beautiful, filled with sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. It was warm as early September can be, but the oppressive humidity of high summer was gone. Fall was in the air.

I was at work, in the lunch room, making myself a cup of coffee when I heard. A coworker came in, looking pale as a sheet. He said one of the Twin Towers in New York was down, that a plane had crashed into it. I stared at him, thinking he must be joking. But I could tell from his face he was not. I forgot all about the coffee, and followed him into one of the offices where a TV was on. Everyone was gathered around the TV, and there was an eerie silence. No one said a word.

On the TV they were showing a replay of the plane crashing through the first tower. I felt like I was dreaming. No, this couldn’t be real. It looked like a movie — an action movie like “Independence Day.” No way was this happening. It had to be a movie, with phenomenal special effects.

As I stared at the screen, I saw the second tower go down in black smoke and flames. A plane had crashed through it too. No, no, no, this wasn’t happening. It was some elaborate set-up, like the “War of the Worlds” bogus radio newscast back in the 1930s.

In a fog, I slowly walked back to my desk. I only had one phone call that day. Although the office didn’t close, no one was working…and no one cared. No other customers called. No one talked, except in hushed whispers. There was a lot of crying going on, even for those who had lost no one in the disaster and had never been to New York City in their lives. As for myself, I felt nothing. I just felt numb. I didn’t feel like myself at all. It wasn’t until the next day that I burst into tears thinking about it. I can’t even imagine how it would have felt to have been right there, watching these horrible events unfold from a New York City apartment window, as many did…or worse, be just outside the towers when it happened.

Whenever we hear bad news, whether it’s something that affects only us (such as when someone we love dies) or something that affects an entire nation like 9/11, we remember these events with the clarity of a movie. I’m not sure what the reason is for this, or what purpose it serves, but I believe it’s a form of dissociation–when we temporarily split from ourselves and feel as if we’re viewing the events from an outsider’s perspective. That accounts for the surrealness of these moments. It’s why we have a photographic memory for them. Maybe this is a way we protect ourselves from the shock of unbearably bad news at the moment it happens — and can’t grieve properly until our minds are ready to process it.

How does everyone remember 9/11 and what was your experience of it like?

36 thoughts on “When time stands still…

  1. It was too much. Too much to process and comprehend. I think you are right about the surreal feeling being a form of dissociation.

    I was living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania then. We were surrounded. New York, to the northeast. The Pentagon, where a third jet crashed, about 80 miles south. The fourth hijacked plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field to our west. Surrounded.

    Our country and our world has never been the same.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I actually didn’t know what was going on when I first heard about it. I was in bed sleeping at the time it happened and my Dad’s way of getting me up for school that morning was “They are talking about the planes crashing” and I didn’t get why that was even news, I just thought he was blabbing about random things I don’t care about so I yelled at him about it. Then I was up and he mentioned it again and had me look at the TV and the towers were in flames and I still thought planes crashed into them and couldn’t understand the big fuss. I don’t remember what I wore but I am sure I had cereal that morning because it was my usual breakfast and I go to school and in choir, that news is on again and I still don’t get why we are watching it. I didn’t understand the terms hijack or terrorist and once it was explained, I felt anger. Other kids acted excited about it and saying it was WWIII and I freak out about it. So my aide had to take me back to the resource room and the news was on again in that room, every teacher had a TV in their classroom and were having their students watch it and there was no school work that day, just sitting in your desk watching it on TV all day and i got to do the computer all day and it was like this for the rest of the week. My mom was in Billings, MT when it happened and she was in the hotel room watching it and then she saw another plane crash into another building so she saw the new’s person’s live reaction to it. It had happened live. My culinary art’s teacher was in Mexico when it happened so she was stranded down there so we were stuck with a sub for a while until she was able to return.

    I have had moments where I felt I was dreaming and it was over happy moments too like the time I had my son and I felt like I was dreaming because here I was holding a baby for the very first time and it was mine. It felt like the very first time. I didn’t feel that way about 9/11. I guess everyone dissociates every now and then.

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  3. It was the first semester of my senior year of college in Orlando, Florida. It was 4 weeks shy of my 21st birthday. I was in bed bc not being a morning person I purposely scheduled my classes later in the day. My roommate (who is still my best friend to this day) woke me up and said a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time I had no idea what the WTC really was (I was a bit ignorant about things of the world). I needed to get up anyway so I grumpily rolled out of bed and got myself a cup of coffee. As we both pondered how the plane could have crashed into the building (“That’s odd…was it flying too low? Engine failure?…”) we witnessed the other plane go into the 2nd building. My roomie noticed that it was a second plane before the news reporters even did and then it was confirmed. We were like “What the hell is going on???” I immediately believed there was some sort of navigational error caused by some electromagnetic weapon and expected to hear about all sorts of other plans crashing. My roomie was for sure there were terrorists controlling the planes (smart woman). My college closed all the classes for the day (which I thought at the time was a bit dramatic).We were glued to the screen and watched the towers fall. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that there were people in the towers or that these were commercial flights that were hijacked. Once those two things were announced on the news I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. It was difficult to fathom because I flew at least a couple of times a year through some of the major air hubs. Plus, the number of people trapped in the towers was mind boggling. My ex boyfriend whom I hadn’t talked to in months called to see if I was okay. We had previously agreed not to talk but he couldn’t stand not knowing if I was okay. There was also this sense of dread not knowing if something bad was going to happen in my city of Orlando, which is a major international city. The proceeding weeks were difficult as most of our friends knew someone who was in NYC at the time (New Yorkers like to move to Florida). So there was lots of worry and sorrow going around. A couple of months later I took my first flight going through Logan International (Boston) to visit my mom for Christmas. When the plane landed everyone clapped, relieved. It was an awful experience going through the new heightened airport security with everyone being on edge. As far as dissociation goes…the weeks and months afterwards was a weird experience. It was difficult to wrap my mind around. In addition to all the grieving there was this sense of “What does this MEAN??” And an uneasiness that stuck around for a very long time.

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  4. Reblogged this on galesmind and commented:
    I don’t like seeing pictures of it to be honest. It really is like yesterday. The sky was a vivid blue. I worked at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera. When I walked in that morning the office secretary had her computer on and said a plane flew into the Twin Towers. To be honest I thought she meant some small plane had crashed into it. We soon found out the truth. After awhile we evacuated out to our CFO’s apartment she very kindly asked us to go there with her. We all sat in her living room watching these iconic towers blow up and crumble to dust. I tried to reach my husband who was working in the village at the time on Bleeker street and had our car. A lot of the phone service was out because they had their antennae on the top of the tower. Finally his cousing got me and told me to meet him there. It took two hours walking towards the towers. We had no idea what was going on but as I walked I saw the smoke and rubble coming from where the towers once stood. People went by me covered in white powder a look of shock on all their faces. I can’t imagine what they had just experienced. We had no idea then how truly awful the situation was. When I got to Washington Square park not far from his office I heard military jets overhead. Growing up a GI brat I knew exactly what they were. Now I assumed the country was under attack. We had no idea if there was going to be more attacks or bombs or anything else. When I got to his office my husband and I got in the car to try to get home to Queens twenty five miles away from the city. We managed to get on the FDR drive and it was really eery. The usually busy highway was deserted. Approaching La Guardia and JFK airports two of the busiests on the East Coast there was nothing. When we finally got home we sat in front of the television watching the broadcast of our city not knowing if it would still be there in the morning.

    My husband is a funeral director. All of the hospitals were prepared as well as funeral homes. They were not needed. Into the months following he would get the remains sometimes just small body parts that had been identified for funerals.

    Today there is a memorial on the site. Two huge reflecting pools where the buildings were. The number of names is mind boggling. The tragic stories behind those names haunt me still. Every year those names are called out in cadence. The pit has been filled but this city will never be the same.

    You asked and that was my experience. I hope to never experience something like that again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was changing my son’s diaper when it came across the news, I knew instantly that the USA was under attack, and also knew instantly that the USA would call on her allies and soon we would be going to war against those who planned and executed the plane attacks.
    The world forever changed that day, and not for the good, we now have Tanks and Troops rolling across our lands and infiltrating our cities ( Jade Helm) …this is not just a military training exercise as they’d have you believe, it’s happening around the world at the same time… that is just too big of a coincidence

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  6. I know exactly where I was a what I did and how everything stopped. How I thought, watching the coverage of the first attack, that it was a very freak accident. And while watching you could see the second plane come it… Watching with my husband who had only arrived back from New York two days prior. And I remember the commentator just screaming… That day truly changed the world and I believe our freedom. And I hope something like this will never happen again…

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  7. It is surreal and disorienting, isn’t it? Sometimes these things just don’t feel real to me. I live in a sleepy little place, but even we have a huge military presence. A while back there was a threat and they sent in the black helicopters, literally the black helicopters of conspiracy theories and action adventure movies and it seemed as if I were trapped in science fiction or something. All of a sudden there are soldiers everywhere and men in black. Fortunately nothing came of that threat, but it was still disturbing.

    9/11 really did change everything. So many of us grew up never seeing an attack on our own soil, never even believing such a thing was possible. That illusion of safety was pretty much shattered forever. I still remember how people came together however, how there was unity in the country.

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  8. I agree, don’t like martial law, militarization of the police, etc. As for 9/11, it was a very difficult time for our whole city. I’d just been released from the psych ward the day before, so I was already kind of in my own space when this happened.

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  9. I was working for an American International Bank at the time here in the UK, and we were all gobsmacked. The TV went on in the staff social room and the entire office crowded in to watch it (145 staff).
    Our computer support team were sent over to The States and our F/X dept worked 16 hour shifts to liaise with Hong Kong. That was the business side.
    It was a terrible day. So many lives lost.
    Stunned doesn’t begin to cover it. Even almost fourteen years on.

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  10. I was in the Air Force at the time, and our base went on lock-down. That was for me the day America really lost it’s innocence and realized we were vulnerable to all the atrocities other countries around the world have been dealing with for years.

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  11. I was aged 10, in school studying science. Another class was doing PE and the teacher put the radio on for some music when the news came across over the radio. I think the teachers told us what happened as soon as they heard and then my teacher found a radio and we just sat and listened. When I went home all I did was watch the news. I watched the news for days. I bought the newspaper the day after it happened. I just remember watching and listening to it all. It was awful. I remember feeling so upset and shocked. Just seeing that horrific featured image brings a lump in my throat as I can feel myself wanting to cry.

    I was a child in the UK. I had never been to NYC, never knew anyone there. Up to that day I had never heard of terrorism. That day changed my life. I was a kid who saw horrific things that will stay with me forever. Those moments will always be us and my heart will always ache for the innocents lives that were lost.

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    • It must have been so hard for you since you were so young and unable to understand what had happened or why. That would be very scary for a kid (it was scary for everyone)–I know a lot of kids needed counseling afterwards, even if they lost no one or didn’t live in NYC.
      Thank you for finding this blog. 🙂

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  12. I also remember when JFK was shot and killed. I was sitting in class for Comedies of Greece and Rome. We first learned he had been shot. The teacher shrugged and said there’s nothing we can do about it. When I got home, after class, the news was out that he was dead

    I was a right-wing conservative at the time and i hated JFK. So I was gleeful. So were my friends. The leftists were accusing. One said to me, “What do you think of Goldwater now?” As if he had anything to do with it. When we found out a leftist had fired the shot, we were relieved because if it had been a right-winger, there would have been I-don’t-know-what.

    I now see JFK as a great president. He was really a martyr to his efforts to bring peace to the world. I think he was killed by the FBI or the CIA. The world was never the same after this either. That great punk rock band, The Dead Kennedys, announced by their band title that the world had changed significantly

    I was having my car detailed when I heard about 9/11. It didn’t feel surreal to me. I had no feeling of disassociation. I was furious that someone dared to do that. But I couldn’t agree with Bush that the terrorists were “cowards.” Come on. It must take enormous courage to be a suicide bomber. Why is everything we disagree with “cowardly?” As if virtue and courage were the same thing.

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    • YOU were a right wing conservative? 😮
      I barely remember it at all–I was too young. But I do have a vague memory of all the adults around all acting strange and sad. I didn’t know what was going on, but somehow I knew to keep my mouth shut and not bother my parents. (They weren’t fans of JFK but everyone was caught up in the mood just the same).

      I remember the Dead Kennedys. I wasn’t really into hardcore punk (I was more a new wave type of girl), but they were good, very political.


      • Yeah. I became a rightist after reading Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” I was in high school and went to college with those beliefs. I joined conservative students’ clubs. Goldwater was running for president. I actually ran for State Assembly on the Conservative Party ticket. The Conservative Party, like the Liberal Party existed to pressure the Republicans and Democrats to move further right or left, respectively. I was in a debate and my picture in the school paper with a quote from me as the lead sentence. It was a lot of fun. Working for a living was a jolt of reality. Since then, I’ve re-read “Atlas Shrugged” numerous times. Each time, finding more flaws in Rand’s thinking.

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