It was a Tuesday. And I was supposed to be in class. But, I'd been having trouble sleeping since I started my freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh. The 8:00 a.m. algebra class on the third floor in the Cathedral of Learning did not help my insomnia. So, when the phone rang at 8:49 a.m., I chose not to answer it because I was afraid it was my mom on the other line, somehow knowing that I was skipping class during the second week of class. Already skipping class.
And sure enough, the voice on the other line was that of my mom. She left a message on the machine in my single-person dorm room on the 10th floor of Holland Hall. "Ashley, if you are there, pick up the phone or turn on your t.v. One of the World Trade Center buildings in lower Manhattan is on fire." I picked up the phone to talk with her and turned on the t.v. Images were showing people above the point of impact. They were waving shirts out the window to try and get someone's attention. They were alive. They were desperate to be saved. I opened the door to my dorm room - it was right by the elevator - and people were coming in to my room as they were on their way to class to see what was going on. News reports were saying it was an explosion. Others were saying it was a plane. And then there was an official confirmation that there was a plane that crashed into the first tower. A number of people were in my dorm room at 9:03 a.m. We were all discussing what a terrible accident it was. And then we screamed as we watched a live shot of the second plane hit the south tower. And many of the same people were in my dorm room as we heard that another plane had flown into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. And we sat there and we watched, in horror, the news unfolding, history in the making, and a country changing before our eyes. And at 9:59 a.m., we sat there and watched the south tower collapse in a ball of smoke. And at 10:03, we heard that Flight 93 had crashed in Shanksville, PA. And at 10:28 a.m., we watched the north tower collapse. And we watched the live shots of people running for their lives. And we cried. And my mom called back. "We're getting off of campus. Walk up to Chevron."
I remember how terrifying it was to get off of campus in Oakland - people thought that the terrorists were going to try and hit the Cathedral of Learning or the U.S. Steel building in downtown Pittsburgh - and the city was an absolute disaster. After Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, rumors started to spread that the terrorists had over a dozen planes and planned to hit major targets in several different cities. People started saying Pittsburgh, about 65 miles from the crash site, had been one of the target cities. It wasn't. The plane was said to be going to Washington, D.C. But we didn't know that and anything is believable during times of panic. It was almost like the entire city got in to their cars to get as far away from the city as possible. People were yelling at one another, and swearing, and flicking one another off, like no one trusted one another. There was fear and anger in the air. It seemed like the world was coming to an end.
I had a number of high school friends in lower Manhattan and in D.C. that morning. And I am a fortunate soul to say that I don't personally know anyone who perished in the horror that was 9/11. In the ten years that have passed since that morning, I've met many people who weren't that fortunate. A good friend of mine from law school worked in lower Manhattan on the morning of 9/11. One day, while discussing the heartbreaks of the world, I asked if she was there that morning. Her tone changed. Her expression softened. "Yes," she replied quietly. "I have many friends that lost their lives in the towers and at the Pentagon that morning."
In my junior year of college, I interned for the local coroner's office. One of the case files I had access to was the first responder's Flight 93 case. Pittsburgh was the largest city closest to Shanksville and Pittsburgh responder's were called on-site immediately. I had studied the forensics aspects of the crash site in another class taught by one of the responders, so he asked if I wanted to view the file. I was staring at photographs of a large man-made grave created by some of the greatest heroes in this country on a day where our country experienced the deadliest attack on U.S. soil. I was staring at photographs of inexplainable things. I couldn't look for long. I heard the voices of those heroes' "Let's Roll" in my head. I heard the 911 calls. I heard the panic. A few years ago, Ron spent a summer working in Reading, PA and I would pass by the "Flight 93 Memorial" sign near exit 110 on the PA Turnpike on every trip. I relived the moments of that morning every single time I passed, but now they were moments complete with pictures.
Growing up, my parents would talk about historical events that happened during their lifetime. I'd read about something in school and I'd ask them, "Do you remember when you heard that JFK was killed?" And they'd respond that yes, they remember when they heard that JFK was killed, with the exact location, time and feelings they felt at that very moment. I secretly hoped that I'd never have a "memory" like that to share with my children. But, I do. And unfortunately, there have been a lot of those "memories" that have been embedded in my brain since I matured and realized how hard this world can be some times.
Many of us did not innocently board airplanes that Tuesday expecting to have a relaxing flight to our next destination. Many of us were not in lower Manhattan that morning. Many of us were not working for the air flight control or taking calls at the 911 responders unit. Many of us were not in Washington, D.C. Many of us were not in the small-rural town of Shanksville, PA. We all have different stories from 9/11. But it all impacts us the same: we all remember that day, just like it was yesterday. We all remember how we glued ourselves to those t.v. sets. How we told our loved ones we loved them. How we prayed for the victims and their families. How we appreciated the courageous acts of the heroes who responded. How we watched our President say we were going to get the terrorists who did this cowardly act to our country. How we grew angry at the situation, and sad, and scared. How we felt the first time we got on a plane after 9/11. How we knew this event would change our lives forever. And it did, so began our world, post-9/11...
Every year, I pay a tribute to the victims of 9/11 and those who have since suffered from the aftermath of the tragedy. This morning, I awoke at 5:46 a.m. PST and I've been watching the memorials on CSPAN. Tonight, Ron and I will walk to the Statue of Liberty at Alki Beach for the candlelight vigil. Right now, I'm listening to the victims' families read the names of those lost in the towers that morning. Since the first "anniversary" I've watched the videos, the documentaries, the films, the specials. I reread the transcripts and the 9/11 Commission Report, I look at the pictures, I remember the pictures I saw, I listen to the audio. I find myself going back to these things periodically throughout the year. It is important for me to keep 9/11 in my heart always. I owe it to the people who suffered. And ten years later, it still feels like it was yesterday.
Today, ten years after the worst attack on U.S. soil, we remember the fallen. We will never forget the victims and their families. We remember the volunteers and their efforts. We respect the courage of the men and women who fight in honor of this beautiful country. We Remember. September 11, 2001. God Bless America.
The recipe below, like my freshman year insomnia and my terrible algebra attendance, is such a trivial matter; absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But still I post it. Because no matter what happens in life, life goes on...
Yield: 4-6 main courses
For the Rice
- 3/4 cups basmati rice
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp golden raisins
- 2 Tbsp blanched, sliced almonds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 3 whole cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbsp peeled, minced fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp golden raisins
- 2 Tbsp blanched, sliced almonds
- 1 1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 5 whole cardamom pods
- 1 cup small cauliflower florets
- 3 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 small new potatoes (about 6 ounces), peeled and quartered
- 1 medium carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 Tbsp toasted, shredded coconut
- 2 Tbsp toasted, blanched, sliced almonds
- Make the rice: Place rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Set aside. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the raisins, almonds, turmeric, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks and cook, stirring, until toasted and lightly fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 1 minute more. Add the water and salt; bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, wrap the lid tightly with a kitchen towel and cover, and steam until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
- Meanwhile, make the vegetables. Melt the butter in a medium straight-sided skillet with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat.
- Add the onion and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
- Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the golden raisins, almonds, coriander seed, cumin seed, and cardamom, and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, carrots, and salt
- Raise the heat to high, pour in the water, and cook, covered, for about 4 minutes.
- Uncover and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and most of the water has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes more.
- Add the rice to the vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide among plates and top with some of the toasted coconut and almonds; serve.
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