The reminders are everywhere now.
Sitting on Cross Campus: away from televisions, frisbee idle. (Cell phone, just in case).
Waiting for ice cream: vanilla or rocky road. (“Have you heard from everyone yet?”).
Flipping through your wallet: Yale ID, free-sub-when-you-buy-four. (Draft card, with your name).
For two days, the Yale campus was all but frozen by the news of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. As paralysis began to give way to daily routine at the end of the week, Yalies returned to classes, dining halls and to regularly-scheduled programming.
But terror has crept into the banal. Daily life is filled with reminders, and otherwise mundane conversations shift toward grim speculation, despite the best attempts of all involved.
Students are beginning to come to grips with the events of the past week as the stream of news sputters and slows.
Some, like Matt Longo ’02, are pragmatic.
“In terms of how I feel now, I don’t think my feelings are going to change until I go home and see a different skyline,” Longo said. “My parents are fine. That’s settling, that everyone’s accounted for. I’m coming to terms with the fact that great tragedies happen.”
As of now, he said, it would be too dangerous to go home.
But even among those who wished to avoid engaging the tragedy directly, its presence lingers.
Sometimes by design, sometimes spontaneously, typical college interactions have morphed into forums for prophecy, philosophy and grief.
Away messages that used to quote the Indigo Girls now quote the Bible; table tents that once advertised a cappella now advertise support group meetings.
American flags around the country are at half-mast, but on Yale maintenance trucks, they stick out of antennae, bake on dashboards, and hang from rearview mirrors.
Tragedy has spawned newly morbid etiquette, one in which “how are you?” has been replaced by the now-familiar “is everyone in your family OK?”
It has also produced a new set of taboos, enforced by individual discretion and occasionally by collective rage.
One of the week’s more stunning faux pas took place in “Science Fiction, Science Fact” when Professor Mark Reed decided to demonstrate the theory of relativity by screening a portion from a low-altitude flight simulation that included zooming between skyscrapers.
Students tittered uncomfortably, but said nothing.
Keith Darrell was less lucky.
“I have good news,” he bellowed at the top of his lungs, bringing all noon-day conversation on Cross Campus to a halt. For a moment, passersby got a taste of a hope none dared articulate.
When they realized that Darrell’s “good news” came not from New York but from the Gospel, optimism instantly gave way to widespread disgust towards the 26-year old travelling evangelist.
“Go to New York and help people,” Andi Young ’02, replied after hearing Darrell’s exhortations against promiscuity and homosexuality. “There are people who have died, and you’re out here saying this?”
Reaction only grew harsher after some of the evangelists who accompanied Darrell made disparaging comments about Islam.
To many, their appearance on campus seemed the height of insensitivity. But Darrell, as much as the students he enraged, was struggling to cope in the face of Tuesday’s tragedy. Darrell and four comrades from Stand Firm Ministries were driving from New York when they saw the column of smoke rising behind them.
The reactions of some of his compatriots struck even Darrell as misguided.
“One of the guys with us was reading from the Book of Revelation and I said, ‘That’s not what it’s about,'” he recalled. “After something like this, people are just clutching at straws.”
That day, Darrell found it almost impossible to go on with his ministry.
“I started off as gentle as I could be, but then I just stopped preaching — I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate,” he said.
Darrell said that “while there are times when it’s not appropriate to preach, you just have to move on.” For him, said Darrell, “that includes preaching.”
Darrell was far from the only one who turned to God for answers.
Within hours of Tuesday’s attacks, at least three religious services had been held at Yale to pray for the dead. Fliers bearing words of comfort from the Psalms appeared on residential college gates and walls.
But there were darker signs, glimpses of a seething anger.
A red pickup truck with a Yale parking permit sat in the University’s Whitney Avenue lot. Its windows were tinted and a gold-trimmed American flag was affixed to the bed.
Taped over the front bumper was a makeshift cardboard placard, lettered in black permanent marker:
“All camel jockies must be punished! Remember those who died in the World Trade Center and Pentagon! Shoot first! Ask later!”
Meanwhile, in classrooms, students struggled with how to interpret the attack.
As Donald Kagan delivered a lecture on Greek history, one student scribbled furiously. But the words would have baffled the professor had he seen them.
The student copied out quotations from the 16th century French physician and astrologer Nostradamus describing the fall of twin brothers, interpreted by the superstitious as a prophetic allusion to the World Trade Center.
Apocalyptic speculation notwithstanding, students are beginning to see Tuesday’s tragedy as less of a momentary shock and more as the first historical landmark of their lives.
At the first vigil, on Tuesday night, Longo sat on a wall above Cross Campus Library and talked about his relative numbness, his fear, his desire to go back to New York and mourn the missing skyline, and the loss of the tower around which he grew up and had his prom.
Last night, he insisted that even the destruction of childhood memories could not bring him to contemplate the possibility of a war.
“I got my stupid draft card in the mail, and I said, ‘No, no thank you, that’s OK, I think I’ll live this lifetime.’
“It’s a symbol of 1970, not 2001,” Longo said. “We as a generation are blessed if our warfare is planes hitting buildings and not 500,000 soldiers going off and dying. I still can’t fathom what’s going to happen.”
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