The class was taught in the early morning in a building at the very edge of Emory University's campus; yet I knew I would get an 'A' by the end of the semester and that seemed to matter more than the inconvenience. I was bleary-eyed and bored, measuring my life in its achievements, not in its moments.
That was my first full week of college in Atlanta, when I still felt very far from my home and from my dearest friends. Still, I was beginning to feel settled at Emory. Making new friends had not been as difficult as I thought it would be, and I could quickly overcome the homesickness by calling my family in Maryland.
I don't remember what was taught in class on that September day, yet I remember so many other strange things from the hours that followed: the cartoon drawn on the whiteboard in the entryway to my dorm; the busy signal I heard when I called my father's office near the Pentagon; the cheap candle wax that dripped on to my hand during the evening vigil on the quad; the call I made to my high school crush.
In the years that followed, I have been interested to learn what we -- as Americans -- choose to remember from 9/11. What once provided unity seems to have instead deepened our divisions. I've observed some people manipulate the facts for advantageous reasons, while others have simply dismissed those facts entirely... and I never know how to reconcile the two.
As one of my favorite Emory professors observed, this generation created a "divided America," one engaged in a ferocious struggle for power. Yet for a moment -- nine years ago -- we all shared in a common experience, one marked by confusion, sadness and disbelief. The cheap candles we clung to gave us reason to come together and allowed us to feel less alone on a day of immense tragedy. On that day we did not characterize ourselves by our economic, political or religious beliefs, but shared in our human condition. 9/11 reminded us how fragile our world is.
As I reflect on this September day, there are so many things I want to tell my younger self: take the harder calculus class; call your family every day; tell your crush how you feel; pray for the people you love.
Yet even now I forget those things and still feel like a freshman in the first week of classes. I hardly understand why there is so much hatred in the world and why we make love seem like such a difficult task.
But on this day I also remember that life is a blessing; every day, a blessing. That this is the lesson I take away from so much tragedy seems entirely unfair.