This is my small piece of the story that belongs to all of us who remember that day 10 years ago.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 started like any other day. I was probably in the office at 7:00 a.m. Central time, the normal start time of my daily routine as an Industrial Engineering Manager for a manufacturer in the Chicago suburbs. I probably checked email and ran some reports showing production numbers from the day before. I don’t know for sure. My first clear memory from that day was stopping suddenly as I took my regular brisk walk past some cubicles on my way to our 8:30 a.m. production meeting.
My colleague Dave was listening to news radio louder than usual. Except he wasn’t just listening to it, he was staring at the radio.
I asked something along the lines of “What’s going on?”
He took his eyes off the radio. “Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.”
“Two planes?” I remember saying, and then, after processing the statistical improbability, I added incredulously, “That’s not an accident.”
I dashed off to the meeting. Others were sharing the news with people who hadn’t heard. We went through the motions of the meeting, all kind of stupefied by the little we knew about what had happened in New York.
I don’t remember how I got there, but I remember shortly after that I was hovering in the doorway of the executive conference room. The room had the only TV in the building, still hooked up to a VHS player and using rabbit ears for reception. There were several people gathered around. The CEO, Gary, invited me to come on in. Disaster is a great equalizer.
We watched the video of the planes hitting the buildings over and over again. Then came the news of the Pentagon on fire. I vividly remember watching the South Tower collapse live. I thought, “All those people did was go to work today.”
And that’s when I finally lost it. The tears welled up and I dashed out of the conference room. It’s laughable now, but even in that awful moment I didn’t want to be seen crying at work, especially by the CEO.
After composing myself somewhat, I called my then-fiancé Dave. He was attending a conference in Denver, and the night before had mentioned that he might try to get an earlier flight out that day. “Whatever you do, don’t get on a plane,” I said. He hadn’t yet heard the news. A few days later he would be renting a car with a colleague and a female stranger to drive 1000 miles back to Chicago.
We worked a full day that day. I doubt much work got done.
I recall not being able to sleep that night, and going downstairs in the middle of the night to watch CNN of all things. Those images are indelible to me: the immense amount of paper floating down, the camera still filming while the cameraman is trying to find his way out of the suffocating ash and dust.
The empty blue skies in the days that followed were eerily silent and stark.
Grateful for an office with a door, I cried often in the weeks that followed. I didn’t know anyone who died that day. I didn’t have anyone specific to mourn for. I guess I cried for everyone, and for all of us.
My husband and I were married 25 days later. It was a happy day, although not unaffected; one of my aunts from California didn’t attend because she was afraid to get on an airplane. We woke up the next morning to learn that we were at war in Afghanistan. At the airport, it seemed like we were in a different country – National Guardsmen carried automatic rifles in the terminals. We went to Disney World for our honeymoon. It was mostly deserted (which I have to admit was nice for us), in part because people thought it might be a target for further attacks.
Yet, as a stark contrast to the events which unfolded at the hands of the worst of humanity, we also found the best in ourselves. The courage and valor of those who put their own lives at risk to save others. The flood of donations to support those who had lost loved ones. The unity we felt because, friend and stranger alike, we had all been the target.
In spite of the apparent success of that awful mission, in the end, it was really a failure. The events of that fateful Tuesday reminded us to take care of each other and love one another more. I can’t imagine a terrorist plan where that’s the desired end result.
Today, we remember those that were lost that day. We recall our personal where-were-you-when stories. And, I hope we also revive the feeling that we are all in this life together, and continue to share the best of ourselves long after the details fade back into our day-to-day lives.