After Rosh Hashanah services on the evening of September 17, our daughter Sarah, who had been unusually docile about sitting still, complained that she felt hot and tired. At home, we took her temperature and found that she had a slight fever, but she slept soundly through the night and by the afternoon of the next day was back to normal—her headstrong, wildly energetic self.
The same could not be said for me.
I’m used to having a knot in my stomach when Sarah doesn’t feel well, but this was different, much worse. Before I knew it, my thoughts had turned uncontrollably to how I could not protect her—from another terrorist attack, from the knowledge of the ones that had already taken place. The feeling of helpless anxiety took days to recede, and it continues to lurk at the edge of consciousness. I have sensed the same watchful equilibrium in others, all of us alert for anything that might remind us, too forcefully and vividly, of the new and dangerous world revealed on the morning of September 11. We are learning to live, not in, but with, terror.
As I write this, it is a month since hijacked planes damaged the Pentagon, destroyed the World Trade Center, and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing thousands and, in the sadly true cliché, “changing forever” Americans’ feeling of safety within our own borders. Among the dead are 14 Penn alumni, based on our current information (please see p. 86 for their names). Some 300 alumni worked in the area of the World Trade Center, and thousands more feared for, or actually lost, friends and relatives. All of us were, and continue to be, affected.
In this issue, we acknowledge the impact of the terrorist attacks on the University community with a special section, “September 11 & After.” An expanded version of “Alumni Voices” offers three perspectives from New York alumni on the Twin Towers collapse and the rescue/recovery effort; in “Notes From the Undergrad,” two students seeking to foster greater media coverage of hate crimes describe their effort to rally support, with help from fellow students and Penn administrators. And President Rodin, in “From College Hall,” addresses the tragedy as well. We also report on campus reactions in the days following the attacks and on alumni efforts to both connect with each other and offer support to victims. Finally, for “Thinking About 9/11,” we contacted a broad spectrum of Penn faculty to share their expert insights on the tragedy and its consequences.
But, like the people in New York, Washington, and across the country trying their best to return to “normal,” we are also doing what we usually do—by providing our regular mix of feature articles and departments, both serious and not, as well.
Two previously scheduled articles have connections with the current tragedy. First, the posters seeking information about missing loved ones—featuring pictures taken at weddings, vacations, and other happy occasions—that have appeared in New York cannot help but echo the family photographs of Holocaust victims discovered by Ann Weiss. In “The Last Album: Lives in Memory,” Weiss describes how she came to learn of the photos while touring a museum at Auschwitz in 1986 and tells the stories of three of those pictured.
When we planned it, “The Stamp Seal Mystery” by senior editor Samuel Hughes, which concerns a tiny artifact that may have major implications for how writing developed and spread in Asia, was a kind of scholarly adventure story, in which intrepid present-day archaeologist Dr. Fredrik T. Hiebert (perhaps) confirmed the theories of an old archaeologist-hero of his. It is that still, but the ending is shadowed by the fact that the find took place in Turkmenistan, on the border of Afghanistan. With the resulting uncertainty about further investigations in the near future, it is now also a reminder of other potential losses—historical, intellectual, cultural—of war.
—John Prendergast C’80