I remember September 11, 2001 starting out just like any other day. I’d overslept, just like on most days, so I’d taken a rushed shower and was trying to catch up on the news while toweling off, before I’d take my 1.5-mile trek across IU’s campus to class. I had CNN on mute, but recognized the World Trade Center with smoke coming from the tower. Mute was quickly removed as I saw footage of the second plane hitting, and I immediately had to call my mother to see if she was watching.
An hour later I sat in the front row of my massive Criminology lecture, crying openly along with my classmates as we watched developments on the classroom’s gigantic video screen. None of us knew how to process this, developments seeming so far away on a sunny September morning, yet still right there on top of us nonetheless. I recall stumbling through the rest of my classes that morning (including Calculus, wherein the heartless teacher made us continue working even as one girl nearly had a breakdown — her father was a NYC fireman) wondering just what our world was coming to.
I couldn’t continue to watch the news and become numb to developments. I saw that happening to friends of mine in the dorms, watching the news with their red eyes, jaws clenched, minds reeling. I had to get out and walk. I walked that afternoon to the local record store, where several like-minded students browsed the aisles with equally impenetrable stares. We had to find something we could listen to which would pull us out of the mess current events had sucked us into. I recall picking up a copy of Ben Folds’ Rocking The Suburbs, an album I’d already pilfered via Napster, as well as one by a band I’d never heard, Jimmy Eat World.
Bleed American, the title read.
Months later that album would simply be Jimmy Eat World, since the band feared people weren’t understanding that the title was not an attack on America but rather a claim of ownership. We, as Americans, needed to take on that identity and bleed American through and through, celebrating our lives in all their craziness and absurdity. “I’m not alone, ’cause the TV’s on …” the album opened, before encouraging us to clear our thoughts with Speyside, something I wished fervently at the moment that I could do. Forget what was happening now and just let music take over. Even for a few minutes.
I caught a lot of flack in the coming weeks from students who thought I wasn’t taking the events of September 11th seriously. I was among the vocal few on campus encouraging people to fight the terrorists by getting back into our routines, bleeding American in the best way we could at the time, by simply living our lives and telling the terrorists we wouldn’t be destroyed by them. I caught grief for protesting against the “banned songs” list Clear Channel put forward to protect us from music that wasn’t “patriotic” enough. Many felt I was wrong when I suggested turning off the news and living again.
But I stick by my belief that, when tragedy strikes, the music you love matters. The things in your life which give you hope matter more than watching tragedy unfold via 24/7 instant news. And when our soldiers went to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight for our country and to prevent, hopefully, another attack like this from ever happening, they too took solace in music and culture, the very American identity they’d sworn to protect.
So as you remember the fallen from September 11th, twelve short years ago, please also remember to celebrate the good things we have in life that those who died would surely die again for, those things we so very often take for granted.