Reflections on 9/11

Today is September 11th.  Eleven years ago today everything changed.  Our country entered what will forever be referred to as the “post 9/11” era.  America became forever aware that we have enemies who are willing to die in order to see our country fail; enemies who hate our way of life so much they will to go to any lengths to kill as many of us as possible.  I really hate using the words “us” and “them” in the context of talking about Americans and other culture groups, but in this case I can’t think of more appropriate words.  9/11 really marked a clear case of “them” wanting to destroy “us.”  September 11th not only changed the way we see security and air travel, but it also plunged us into a war that is still going on 11 years later.

I am often asked, as most of us are, where I was on September 11th.  Short answer:  I was on an airplane.  Yes, you read correctly, I was on an airplane on September 11, 2001.  I left Seattle on September 10th to travel to Japan to study for a year.  I landed in Tokyo on September 11, and have a 9/11/01 stamp in my passport.  With the time difference, I had already left the airport before the planes hit the twin towers, and was on the bullet train to Nagano completely sheltered from any breaking news.  I distinctly remember getting to my host family’s house and taking a bath.  While I was in the bath my host brother, Kazu starting yelling at me that “a plane hit a house” (at least that’s what I understood with my limited Japanese at the time).  I couldn’t understand what was so urgent, so I came to the conclusion that this must have happened in our neighborhood, because he was so upset about this plane crashing into a house.  I got out of the bath quickly and ran down the hall to find out what happened.

I will never forget standing there in the hall catching a glimpse of the tv and watching the planes hit the towers over and over again.  Even though my Japanese was decent at the time, I really felt in that moment that I didn’t understand anything.  I couldn’t keep up with the commentary on the Japanese news.  I had never learned the Japanese word for “terrorism” or “attack” and I had no idea what was going on.  I know that everyone watching these terrible events in the States felt hurt, confused and angry, among many other emotions.  I didn’t know what to feel, because my language skills weren’t good enough for me to figure out what was going on.

One of the wonderful things that happened after the attacks was the camaraderie of the world.  America was shown so much love and support from all corners of the globe, and I experienced that love and compassion first-hand.  For the first week I was in Japan, I was the “American girl.”  The Japanese people were so wonderful and supportive and quick to offer their sympathies.  I saw Japanese people who were so desperate to offer any support they could to our country, and didn’t know how, so I became the representative of the United States to the people of Nagano.

Sometimes I feel like I missed out on the most important event in recent history because I was out of the country.  I didn’t get to experience the amazing coming-together of the nation that occurred in the aftermath of the attacks.  I wasn’t around to take part in the national unity that our country experienced.  But I did get to experience the amazing love and caring of the people of Japan, who felt so much compassion for us and needed a way to show it.  For the love and support I received from the people of Japan, I will be forever grateful.



Filed under important things, Japan

4 responses to “Reflections on 9/11

  1. Terry Purcell

    Indeed a great story and also one that makes us all think back to that morning. It is so funny how well I remember exactly where I was and what I did that day after the first plane hit and then the second, third and fourth. Being a business owner for the folowing few weeks was quite a scary time since I sit and watched over two million dollars in purchase orders get cancelled in a mater of a few days. With that said I was very proud to be an American since our great country pulled together like I had never seen before in my life. Thank God there were many countries just like Japan who felt much compasion for our country. Enjoyed the story and can’t wait to hear more…. Terry Purcell

  2. Erin L Aukland

    Sprouted tears… I was getting ready to go teach English to my Japanese college students. My very first GHS program. Oh how I didn’t want to leave my house, just wanted to hold tight to my family. Hugged them, kissed them, they were safe, I knew, unlike so many others, so off I went where I was needed most. As the students arrived they didn’t really know what had happened, just very aware that their host families were upset. We didn’t leave the study center that day, we watched “Mr.Bean”, drank Starbucks, and discussed the horrible events of the day. I was grateful these wonderful, caring, very scared Japanese students were college age, with good English skills. They did not come with an escort. Thankfully, the airport reopened and they were able to return home on time.

  3. Excellent post, Sarah. And I remember that I was at Seatac airport, already checked in for my flight. I would have left for California on the 10th, but postponed it to see you safely off to Japan. I still have my boarding pass for 9/11/01. I left the airport stunned, and I walked the mile or so to get my car. I needed the outside air so I did not take the shuttle. It’s still quite vivid.

    • I didn’t know you were supposed to fly on the 11th. I do remember that I originally was going to leave for Japan on the 12th, but tickets were cheaper on the 10th so I flew out the 10th instead. I remember thinking that if I had a ticket for the 12th I never would have made it in time for classes.

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