I had a strange roommate in college. He would talk to himself (full conversations not just occasional mumblings), he would make random right turns while walking which led to constant collisions and I rarely saw him eat anything except frozen vegetables that had been thawed in the microwave.
His most annoying trait was his tendency to wake me up every morning. This usually happened because he had failed to walk around my bed on his way to the door and instead collided with my feet. This happened with such regularity that I took to padding my legs with blankets and armoring the side of the bed with chairs as a deterrent. But all to no avail.
So when I woke up to the sounds of Stephan panicking on Sept. 11, 2001, I thought it was just another one of his fits. He started to rapidly repeat phrases such as "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god," and "What's happening, what's happening, what's happening" and eventually turned on the bedroom television.
The early news reports were still describing the first plane striking the towers as an accident and rumor was running rampant. We were both watching the television at 9:03 a.m. when the second plane hit and by this time, everyone knew it wasn't an accident..
I went to the door of my second roommate, and said "Keith get up, something's happening and we might be under attack."
Stephan had good reason to panic, his sister lived in New York, far enough away from the Towers to be safe, but we didn't know that at the time. Nor did we know that we were a lot closer to the incident than we thought.
Like the rest of the country, we were watching the story unfold through television cameras but it became a first person narrative when news came in that the Pentagon had been hit because we lived in Washington D.C., a few miles from the Pentagon. It took us a few minutes to realize just how close we were, but then we quickly went to the roof of our building and we could clearly see a large plume of smoke forming a mammoth exclamation point above the crash site.
We went back inside in-time to see the Towers fall on TV. The cell phone networks were overloaded almost immediately and we spent several hours contacting family members to tell them we were all-right.
There were immediate changes to the physicality of living in D.C. Fighter jets, flying so low you could see the missiles on their wings, circled the city for a while. Armed guards sprang up all over Downtown, public transport ground to a halt, the Department of Homeland Security was established across the street from our campus and security "surges" became part of living in D.C.
The events also had a profound and lasting psychological impact on everyone in the city. Some residents couldn't handle the new D.C. and left. They transferred schools and moved out to the suburbs. However, others were motivated to tackle the new reality head on. My subsequent roommate drove across three states to help run a red cross shelter for victims. He acquired a degree in Middle Eastern studies and joined the Army as an intelligence officer. He chose to face the real world not hide from it and that is the lesson that I took away from those attacks, you can't control what happens to you, only how you react.
Fear should never be our primary motivator for any decision. I won't be scared into voting for any political party because they raise the specter of terrorism nor will I spend my life suspicious of veils and turbans.
September 11, 2001 gave us all a choice: live a life of fear or freedom and if we let fear impinge on our free will, then the terrorists will have won.
- Matthew Hall
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