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11/4: The Aftermath

The last time I felt my own heart beat along with the emotional pulse of the country was also on a sunny, fall Tuesday, seven years ago. A phone call from my then boyfriend, who was working in the International Herald Tribune newsroom in Paris, woke me up shortly before 9 a.m., (an ungodly hour for a college senior!). “A plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center towers,” he said. I couldn’t comprehend what he could possibly be talking about. Planes flying into buildings? My brain could not compute. I barked at him for calling me so early, hung up and turned on the television. Moments later, I watched a plane fly through the second World Trade Center tower. I realized this would be too much for me to take in, no matter what time of day.

This past Tuesday, when Jon Stewart announced that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States, moments before the end of our live special, I wondered what the punch line was. I refused to believe it was happening until I verified through several online sources that it would be impossible to dispute the projections: Obama would be our president.

I gathered around the television with those around like I did seven years earlier upon hearing the colossal news. This time, however, a large flat-screen television replaced the 13-inch TV/VCR combo in my student house, colleagues replaced roommates, and tears of joy replaced tears of fear and sorrow.

Yet the weight of Obama’s victory felt similar to that of Sept. 11. I experienced a visceral acknowledgment that the world would never be the same, that change was coming and that it would be impossible to escape the effects of this day.

And also similar to that September Tuesday seven years ago, I did not know how to digest my feelings. It brought me so much joy to see people in the streets greeting one another, congratulatory text messages flying between friends and family and emails of joy from friends throughout the world pouring into my inbox. It felt good to be a part of a community unified by triumph rather than defeat, as I had spent so many months fearing. But I found my internal response to be the most powerful. Not since Sept. 11 had I felt such a strong need to be introspective, to reevaluate my personal choices and consider personal changes within this new framework.

I recall reading about the effect the 9/11 terrorist attacks had on romantic relationships in the aftermath of the event. The country saw a rise in break-ups and marriage proposals in the month proceeding Sept. 11. My own anecdotal evidence, however, was even more convincing. Within that month, three of my best friends had broken up with their long-term boyfriends (relationships that had held strong for thee and six years, respectively) and I broke up with my boyfriend of three years on Sept. 15, 2001, two weeks before he was to move back to New York (and closer to me) from Paris.

While college-relationship break-ups are hardly the kind of “change” Obama intended in his message or that the world anticipates, I can’t help but consider the way in which the symbolism and the pragmatism of the election of Obama to the highest office in the land will inspire the more private, personal changes in our lives.

–Jamie Wong