By Jen Almjeld, the adviser of The Progress. She is from Berea.
Where were you when it happened?Americans have been asking themselves this question for generations in connection to the most important and often unimaginable events in our nation’s history.
I remember that I was home from school for a teachers in-service day when the Challenger exploded and I was at church when fighting started in the Gulf more than a decade ago. My mom recalls the announcement she heard over the school loudspeaker when President Kennedy was shot, and I learned about the World Trade Center tragedy from students and colleagues when I arrived at Eastern prepared to teach class as usual on that very unusual September morning.
And now as fighting erupts on the other side of the Earth, I find myself asking and answering this question again.
I was in New York City when the strikes on Iraq started and our nation found itself at once powerful and vulnerable.
This Spring Break trip to the Big Apple had been planned for months and was intended to be the perfect mix of work and play as I traveled with the Progress editor and managing editor to a college media convention.
Instead, during my time in the big city a far-away sounding conflict with a reportedly cruel man became a reality not just to this nation, but to me.
My first trip to New York City was to be filled with new experiences and people, and it was, but I never imagined military personnel dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic weapons as part of the scenery. I passed protesters – both anti- and pro-war – in Times Square and in Grand Central Station.
Security everywhere was tighter and police were stationed at most every corner and still, for a while, I was able to keep on vacationing. We strolled Central Park and visited Tiffany’s jewelry store and only occasionally were my serene New York minutes marred by the images of war streaming by on CNN and reaching out from endless papers at local newsstands.
And yet, I could block most of it out. I went on my merry way, crossing item after item off my “things to do in New York” list. That is until we visited Ground Zero. As we stepped into the daylight from the subway entrance I was immediately faced with a gaping hole in the middle of the once bustling block in the city’s financial district. Even with all the tourists milling about the site seemed lonely and very empty, and I was shocked at how moved I was.
All around me were silent people struggling to grasp the full impact of this thing that had happened while simultaneously processing the new crisis facing our nation.
And suddenly it was all real to me. The destruction and chaos, whether on our shores or on someone else’s, is real. The fighting in Iraq does and will impact all of us, just as the events of a terrible September morning continue to haunt this nation.
For many this realization about the war came sooner and their stories will be more impressive and probably more important than mine when it comes to describing how they spent the days immediately following the beginning of war.
A woman standing next to me on the subway, under the weight of an enormous American flag she crocheted, journeyed to the heart of the city to encourage the government to bring troops home. A veteran shouting into a bullhorn on the corner of Broadway and 40-something Street in Times Square pleaded for patriotism and support for troops waging a “necessary” war.
They were all there and so was I. We stood together in a city crammed with people and each of us quietly and not so quietly found our places in this natural crisis.