Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where were you when the world stopped turning?

Ten years ago I was living in Shanghai, China. I had just settled in for my third year of studies at a University there. I was living in an off campus apartment, by myself. My friend, Shannon, a Chinese friend was staying with me for a few weeks while she was looking for a place of her own.

It was late in the evening and I was watching a DVD. My phone rang. It was my friend Phyllis. She is my friend because she keeps me in stitches. So when she told me to prepare myself, the World Trade Center had been hit with an airplane, I might have told her to shut up. She got real serious and said the news was true. She and her family lived in more of a luxury apartment building and had CNN in English and was able to get fast and accurate news.

Because I had lived in New York City right before moving to China, the City still felt like home. I had gone to a very large church in Manhattan, Redeemer Presbyterian. Many attenders worked in the financial district. One of my first thoughts was, "Oh dear Lord, most of Redeemer is gone."

I hung up the phone and immediately tried calling some of my best friends living in the City. As you know, that was impossible. I tried calling my parents in Ohio and even that took a while. Phone lines were just plain tied up. I was also on line trying to get any info I could, but 10 years ago, Internet connections weren't what they are now... especially in China. That night on the Chinese news there was a 30 second clip about the day. It was eye opening. We do the same thing here. A tragedy half way around the world often only makes a short clip on the nightly news.

Phyllis called back a few minutes later to tell me that another plane hit. I remember the pit in my stomach, now thinking of all my friends in the City. Thinking about what I might have been doing that morning if I was there. I had worked at NYU and could clearly see the towers from campus. I wanted to throw up.

Again, another phone call saying the Towers had fallen. I'm not sure I said anything, I just hung up. I called another American friend who lived in the dorms on campus and she came over. We cried. Our campus told us not to come to class the next day and to stay inside, they didn't know if we would be unsafe. We didn't stay on campus, but we went over to another friends' apartment who also had CNN. A bunch of us Americans sat glued to the TV, probably just like you did.

Later that day we learned that all air travel in and out of the U.S. had been suspended, for several days as I remember. It was the weirdest feeling, not being able to get back home if I needed to. I was literally stuck in China.

As news came from home and I realized all my friends were fine, there was a bit of relief. I had heard news that miraculously, most of the people at my church had been spared. But life in China went on as normal. One of the biggest history changing events in America, and I was not able to grieve as the rest of the country was. My parents told stories of the heroes. They shared about the renewed patriotism. I was eating noodles.

I came home for a short visit in February, 2002. I made a trip to the City. I had to. My plane flew over the southern tip of Manhattan. My stomach lept into my mouth as there was a horrifying gap in the landscape. I cried. I went down to Ground Zero. I saw the self made memorials that still stood, five months later. I cried. I mourned. I tried to *catch* up with my fellow Americans. I was angry at all of the people from other countries taking pictures at Ground Zero, as if it was another tourist attraction.

I didn't know on that trip that I would not be moving back to the City after leaving China. God had a different plan. New York is magical. Perhaps my favorite place on the planet. Even though I only lived there for three years, in some ways they were the best three years of my life... NY greatly shaped who I am today. In my heart, I'll always be a New Yorker. So on this 10th anniversary, I mourn. In some ways I'm still trying to *catch up*. My thoughts and prayers are with all the family, friends and loved ones of those who lost their lives 10 years ago.


vwiller said...

I need to write my bog post about this and I could not get through your's without crying. It will take a bit for me to get mine typed. I thought of you that day and worried not knowing you were around the world and safe. It took Linda telling me that A Phi had done the search and you were not on the lists. 10 years and it still seems so current!

jenny said...

Wow Elizabeth! This was really an emotional read. Didn't realize you had so many connections to that day with friends living right there. I was newly pregnant with Lane and was on bedrest for a few weeks over that horrible day, so needless to say, I watched a ton of the "coverage" while I laid on the couch. Thanks for sharing!