When students wandered in late to my psychology class at New York Institute of Technology on 9/11, they looked distraught.
"An airplane just ran into one of the twin towers!" one of them said.
Another student came into the class and exclaimed, "Both twin towers have been hit by planes."
"My mother works in one of the towers," another student said. She began to cry. We huddled together in the small classroom and talked about this news.
I ended class early. In the lobby, a large group of students and teachers were watching a TV monitor. We saw one of the towers crumble to the ground. As I watched, I felt as if the very air had been sucked out of the room.
[Your story: How has September 11 changed you?]
I walked 50 blocks to my office in lower Manhattan. Subways had stopped running and buses were stuck in traffic. Everybody was walking with dazed expressions in their eyes. Everybody had left work and was trying to get home. As I reached 14th Street, police were standing on the corners diverting traffic. The sound of sirens filled the streets. I ducked inside my therapy office and called my patients to cancel appointments. Then I turned on the small TV in my office. I could not take my eyes off it. It was as if I were hypnotized.
As I lay in bed that night, I tried to get a grip on what had happened. I knew this was going to be a national trauma. What I didn't know was that it was also going to be a personal trauma, and that I would never again see the world in the same way.
This September marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11, yet it seems as if it happened last year. I now teach at a college near the World Trade Center and every now and then, I walk a few blocks south to see the progress of the buildings that are going to replace the twin towers. The tallest one is starting to soar above all the others in the Financial District. I can now look at these buildings without the sickness in my stomach.
For a long time, I no longer felt safe in New York. Before 9/11, terrorism was something you didn't have to go to if you didn't want to. Afterward, it was like a reality medicine you had to take every morning. Before 9/11, America seemed safe and powerful. Afterward, America seemed vulnerable. Before 9/11, I felt safe. Afterward, I felt vulnerable.
Today, 10 years later, some of my patients still talk about 9/11. They have changed, matured because of it. I have changed and matured. I appreciate how lucky I have been to grow up in America, and I also appreciate that many others in the world have not been so lucky. I appreciate that relationships -- both international and personal -- are complicated. And I appreciate more than ever that death can happen at any time, so it's important to embrace your loved ones while you can.
Call it the "new sobriety."
- New York Institute of Technology