I was asleep when the first plane struck the first tower on September 11, 2001. I was living 13 miles outside of Los Angeles, which explains why I was still asleep. I was raised there unlike my mother who was raised in Brooklyn, NY. Sometime after the first plane crashed into the first tower, my mother flew open the bedroom door and told me that a plane crashed into a skyscraper. It was around 5:30AM PST. I cannot recall the exact words anymore, but it was something like, “What do you want me to do about it?” I remember thinking it was a small plane, someone lost control, and my mother was out of her mind. But because I had to get ready for class and I was already awake , I walked into the living room to see what was happening. My mother had only a few minutes earlier turned on the television. It was apparent upon seeing the billows of black smoke that the crash was not a five passanger plane. My mother decided to return to preparing for the work day.
There were interviews taking place on the ground with New Yorkers and a background image of the two towers with one on fire. At some point a camera was facing upward toward one of the towers and a plane quickly rushes past the screen into the tower. It was surreal. “Woah. I can’t believe that they caught the first plane crashing on film.” But that is exactly what I believed. The video was a live shot and the shock at seeing a plane - a second plane - crash into another tower caused me to believe I was watching a replay of the earlier crash. That belief persisted only for a moment as news anchors were horrified to report that a second plane had struck the second tower. I then realized this was an intentional act of terrorists.
There were people running from the buildings and some running toward. Even being on the West coast, the chaos in NYC could be felt. Reports were coming out that people were jumping from the towers, and then the video began to capture it. At a certain point, I cannot recall when anymore, the sound of bodies crashing into the roof could be heard, which sticks with me even more than the images; as a musician, it is easier for me to recall vivid sounds than clear pictures in the imagination. This might have been before or after the first tower fell; I cannot recall.
Then the first tower collapsed. I thought that perhaps I would wake up in my bed. I was shocked that the building collapsed the way that it did. I had seen building demolitions online but never by an explosion near the top of the building. I would have thought that top of the building would collapse and fall off of the top rather than the entire thing collapse. I yelled to my mother that the first tower fell. She did not believe me until she saw it for herself on television. In fact, she told me I should not joke about things like that. It was an incredible thing to behold as it was unfolding in real time. Never before - at 20 years old - had I witnessed anything as horrific. People were covered in concrete and ash. Surrounding smaller structures began to collapse. Even to this day, thinking about the choice people were forced to make to be burned by the flame or to jump to their death still disturbs me.
Enough time had passed that it was necessary for me to prepare to leave for class. While I was doing this, the second tower collapsed. I cannot recall whether I found out about the other two plane highjackings before class or after class. My mother began to cry and started to make phone calls. Her cousins still lived in New York and New Jersey and there was a question about their safety. Fortunately, they were not in the city by the time the first plane struck the tower.
When I arrived at class, college students were crying. It still had not hit me how significant this was with respect to the number of deaths there were. I had no sense for how many people worked in those buildings. The class was clearly less full than usual. Some people were completely unaware of what had happened. I was at Biola University at the time and thank God that the professor had enough wisdom to skip the epistemology lecture. Although students were free to leave, students stayed to pray and process what happened. It was my first time attending a Christian university and so this was another unsual part of the experience for me.
The remainder of the day felt like being at a funeral. People were digging through the rubble, but no one was pulled alive. Some people began to express anger once their hope drained. News anchors were crying on live television late into the evening, some barely able to get through sentences.