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9/11 brought the world to my neighborhood


11 A.M. ET September 11, 2011

9/11 showed me that it's important how we choose to act out faith. - Adam Robbins. A UMNS photo courtesy of Bruce Robbins.
“9/11 showed me that it's important how we choose to act out faith.” - Adam Robbins. A UMNS photo courtesy of Bruce Robbins.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a junior at Stuyvesant High School, three or four blocks north of the World Trade Center.

I was in physics class when a classmate said he saw smoke coming from the twin towers. At first, people didn’t know what was happening because it wasn’t obvious an airplane had hit the building. I thought it might be a bomb. Everybody ran to the window, and we saw one of the twin towers burning. The teacher decided to start teaching again, so we all returned to our seats.

A little while later, the second plane came in. It was very loud. We could hear it screeching, and when it hit the tower, the ground shook. The whole building shook, even though we were a couple of blocks away. Everyone got up and ran to the window again. We could see the second tower burning.

The teacher tried to keep teaching physics. I guess that was his way of responding. Nobody was paying attention. People were listening to radios. Everybody was completely ignoring the teacher or staring out the window and watching the towers burn. We could see debris falling. The principal came on the PA system and said we couldn’t go outside for lunch because of the debris.

At this point, nobody really grasped how large the disaster would be. It became much more obvious when the first tower fell. It felt like an earthquake. The building shook again. This time I was in the hallway. I couldn’t see the tower shaking. It was traumatic for many people at the school who had parents or friends working in the World Trade Center.

Looking out the windows to the south, all we could see was dust. It was dark outside, like the Apocalypse. We couldn’t see the sky. We could just see big dust clouds coming up from where the tower had collapsed. Looking down the West Side Highway, we saw dust clouds moving toward us and people covered in dust.

On 9-11, Robbins joined the crowds of people walking home following the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. A web-only photo from flickr/creative commons/Gunni Cool.
On 9-11, Robbins joined the crowds of people walking home following the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
A web-only photo from flickr/creative commons/Gunni Cool.

After the first tower fell, school staff had us go back to our homerooms and then began evacuating students via the fire exits on the north side of the building.

A long walk home

I began walking home, about seven or eight miles. Because Stuyvesant is a magnet school, people came from all over the city. I had one of the shortest distances to go; some walked 15 miles. I walked with a couple of classmates who lived in my neighborhood. I got home late that afternoon. No public transportation was running.

My cell phone didn’t work. Payphones didn’t work either. People were trying to call. I didn’t get to talk to anybody from my family.

I remember coming in and seeing my grandmother. She was shocked. I don’t remember talking with her about what had happened, other than just her being happy I was OK. My grandfather went to get my younger sister from her school, about seven miles from the World Trade Center. My dad was out of town — in Denver — for work. I don’t think he knew about the attack until a couple of hours later because he wasn’t watching TV. My mom was making her way home from work, also walking. People kept calling all evening to see if we were all right.

Sept. 11 certainly changed my awareness of the world. It really made me think about how everything is so interconnected. Later that day, I remember watching the news and was amazed to recognize a connection between the United States and Afghanistan, a country I had never heard of. The events of 9/11 moved me to look more globally and to consider the world around me in a broader sense than I had before.

Adam Robbins in 2000.  A web-only photo.
Adam Robbins in 2000.
A web-only photo.

After high school, I studied anthropology at Colby College in Waterville, Me. Today I work in Manhattan trying to help institutional investors be more environmentally sustainable and have a longer-term investment perspective.

I tutor through Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist in New York. I teach a little kid math after school. At this point in my life, that is how I am most active in my church and community.

‘We have lost this uniting moment’

Sept. 11, 2001, showed me it's important how we choose to act out faith. Times of crisis like 9/11 push us away from our usual habits — routine, comfortable, rational — and force us to base our actions on our core beliefs. Because we don't know what else to do, normal decision-making processes are lost.

The beautiful thing about post-9/11 New York was that New Yorkers, as a diverse community, responded in a positive way and came together. Christians like me can see this as a reaffirmation of our faith, that we are just acting out what we constantly proclaim we believe.

At first glance, there is no obvious set of core beliefs for New York, which sometimes can seem an infamously godless city. However, after the attacks, it became apparent in my school and neighborhood that my classmates and neighbors of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faith traditions were undergoing the same metamorphosis I was. It was a process of uniting with one's community for support, a community diverse in every way imaginable.

As the churches and synagogues filled during the weeks after the attack, religious communities began to ask about one another and to learn and exchange with one another. While we previously had co-existed without really noticing differences, after the attacks, we learned how and why we were different, and it made us appreciate the strength of our community even more.

I look back now on the awakening I experienced as a teenager in post-9/11 New York, the way my school and city strengthened in a time of crisis and what has happened nationally over the past 10 years. It appears we as a country have lost this uniting moment. We need to step out of our daily routines and consider the daily crises of poverty, hunger and hate in the world We need to return to the moments in which we forgot routine and commit to act as a community guided by our principles.

See complete coverage of the 9/11 anniversary

*Adam Robbins, a lifelong United Methodist, works in institutional investment in New York City.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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