When Everything Just Got Weird

By Megan Robb

To be honest, I wasn’t planning on writing an essay commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Then, while I was watching my beloved Jersey Shore, MTV kept airing a commercial asking “What will you do this 9/11?” Even Pauly D was going to do something. I think he said he was going to call everyone he knows in New York City. I could have done that, but none of the people I know that now live in the city were there on September 11th, 2001. Most of them in the same place I was when it happened: at school.

I was taking a test in my history class, of all subjects, when my teacher was called out of the room. He came back and told us that a plane had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers. I finished my test, the bell rang, and I went to my next class.

We were supposed to go about the school day as if nothing had happened. A few teachers had borrowed TVs from the library and their classes watched the coverage. They spread the news to the rest of us. Throughout the day I felt this mix of detachment and mild resentment. It was ridiculous to pretend that our world hadn’t just come crashing down. I can’t blame any of the faculty for trying to keep the day as routine as possible. They were just as confused as everyone else. The entire nation didn’t know how to handle what had just happened. It was a little like my memories of when I was six and my grandfather died: things were going on that weren’t quite clear, adults were acting differently, and no one was really sure of anything.

My math class was the only one I had where there was no attempt at normalcy. My teacher, though young, had lived in the city for most of her life and she recounted her memories of what was now gone forever. I think the rest of the class was supposed to participate and make it a discussion but no one else had much to say. Instead, we had the shared experience of watching her grieve. Meanwhile, kids lined up wherever there was a phone so that they could call their parents who worked in the city, or their family members who lived there. A lot of kids didn’t have cell phones then. I remember wishing I had someone to call. That sounds terrible now, but I needed some shot of reality to break up the emotional haze that blanketed every classroom, hallway, and stairwell.

The strangest part was how close we were to the tragedy and yet how far I felt from it. My school was about two hours from Ground Zero, but it could have been on another planet as far as I was concerned. It only got worse. The more information surfaced, the more the distance increased. It didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone personally who lost loved ones on September 11th, 2001. I felt guilty about it for years until I realized that my detachment didn’t destroy my empathy. Sometimes it’s best just to be there while other people are mourning; to let them feel their own pain without feeling alone. I don’t know if my math teacher felt any better sharing her memories with a silent class, but I know it’s the best thing I could have done at the time. It was the only logical thing to do on the day when everything stopped making sense.

So there you have it: Jersey Shore actually made me think.

Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com