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Where do we go from here?

AS THE bus driver told us all - 100 bleary-eyed students reluctantly heading off to our 9:30 a.m. class - to pack in as tight as possible, there was no way we students knew that at that same moment, the nation was changed forever. Class went by as if it were a standard Tuesday. My professor lectured on game theory and moral hazard. I thought I heard an absurd amount of cell phone rings disturbing the max capacity lecture hall. Walking toward Newcomb Hall after class, everyone I passed was saying the same thing: "Did you hear about the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center?" I had no idea the full scale of this disaster.

Five minutes later the World Trade Center ceased to exist.

I sat stunned in front of the TV in the office of The Cavalier Daily. Four commercial airliners were hijacked and used as elements of unimaginable destruction. Phones didn't stop ringing. Reporters were already heading out on assignment. I couldn't move. Word came that the Pentagon also had been attacked. My father is in the Air Force, and I'm from Northern Virginia, so I knew there would be news of a family friend hurt or worse. Washington, D.C. was declared a state of emergency. My brother lives in D.C. We are all affected in some way.

Anywhere there was a TV in Newcomb Hall, and any facility on Grounds, all eyes watched in shock. Cavalier Daily staff kept running in and out of the office, still gathering quotes and information for features on the tragedy. I could just see the headlines: "Pearl Harbor two," "Nation collapses with World Trade Center."

But none of that matters right now.

All I could think about was, what happens now?

We'll be flooded with the inevitable update after update and speculation after speculation on what and why and how. People will be in shock for days to come. Rumors will spread and everyone will know someone who is affected.

The World Trade Center is 110 stories tall. It takes 30 minutes to climb the stairwell. The Center has 20 elevators. Elevators fit 20 people. Fifty thousand people work in the two buildings. Eighty thousand visit each day. There were 18 minutes between the first plane crash and the second. That's not enough time.

I don't want to speculate on the number of casualties. It could be greater than a year in Vietnam. I don't want to be inundated by reports of the technicalities of the attack, at exactly what time the first plane went down, how fast it was going, or how long it took before one of the most recognizable American symbols went from a smoking inferno to a pile of rubble.

All that matters now is that we put aside our petty problems and concentrate on coming together as a University community, and indeed as a nation, to offer support to everyone affected by this disaster.

This already is happening in some forms. As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, three vigils were scheduled to take place on the Lawn. The Red Cross Blood Mobile was increasing its efforts to help the medical situation in Northern Virginia. University support groups are preparing to work overtime to counsel affected students. People are offering their prayers and comfort wherever they can.

That's great, but it's sure to pass quickly. One week after the Columbine tragedy two years ago, many people went about their lives as if nothing had happened. Sure, this event is much more serious than the Columbine killings. It's the most tragic event of our generation. But it's inevitable that before too long, people will be debating the "Not gay" chant, arguing about University rankings, or lambasting Gov. James S. Gilmore III on his budget decisions. Forget that petty crap.

Today we are all mourning the loss of the nation. We are joining together to do our part to help our friends deal with their losses. We need to freeze this moment in our memories. Not for the pain and suffering it causes, but for the way it makes us come together and truly work as a community. If this feeling can last longer than the upcoming news reports, no one will care as much if we drop in some magazine's subjective rankings, lose a football game, or have to scale back on Foxfield attendance. And we shouldn't care.

May the prayers and blessings that resounded today last well into the future, well past the time when we truly understand just how our nation will be affected. It's too early to know now, but not too early to make a commitment to put aside meaningless squabbles to concentrate on life.

(Brandon Almond is a Cavalier Daily opinion editor. He can be reached at balmond@cavalierdaily.com.)

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