The Tenth Anniversary

We all remember where we were that day, that terrible day ten years ago.  I was staring stupidly at the Today show, I had just watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center.  Academically, I knew what was happening.  Emotionally, I was refusing to believe my eyes and ears.

I already felt horrible.  The afternoon before, I’d had an asthma attack.  I was home in bed waiting to go see the doctor about adjusting my medication again.  I remember blurting out to my empty bedroom, “We’re under attack?”  It was a question, not a statement.  My mind still reeled from the images and sounds coming from the 19 inch television on top of my bureau.

It seemed so small.  It seemed so far away.  Then it all came crashing in so very, very close.

Reports were chaotic.  We heard a bomb had gone off at Times Square, then the Capital, eventually those would all be unconfirmed.  But then one of the local Washington stations reported a plane had hit the Pentagon.  I heard the news anchor say, “Can we confirm … Ok, yes, we have confirmation that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon.”

I felt my throat start to close, I was freezing cold despite being under the bed clothes.  I yelled to an empty room, “Daddy!”

Every morning from 1993 until 2008, my father traveled up I-95 from Woodbridge, VA to Rosslyn, VA where his office was.  It’s about a 28 mile drive.  The commute took him through the wind of spaghetti like roads surrounding the Pentagon.  Having done the commute with him several times myself and knowing the time he left, I knew that he’d be heading  into that area just about that time, just about the time that plane crashed.

I must have dropped my phone three times trying to dial my father’s cell phone then my mother.  When she picked up, her voice was tight with panic, “Hello!”

“Mom, have you heard from Da – …”

“No, I thought this call was him.  Get off the phone, I haven’t heard from him,” she hung up abruptly.

As, I hung the phone up it rang again.  I snatched up the receiver only to find my doctor’s office on the other line asking me if I could come in earlier than my appointment.  They wanted to close early.

I drove the five blocks to my parents’ house, shaking the whole way.  I sat with my mother on the couch, watching the images of the plane hitting the Trade Center over and over again.  We also both warily eyed the cordless phone on the coffee table, willing it to ring.

It didn’t ring for three hours.

As I had feared,  my father had been right at the Pentagon either as the plane hit or shortly after.  He dialed 911 furiously on his cell phone, but to no avail.  Circuits had been overrun or shut down.

It took him over an hour to go the seven miles from the Pentagon to the parking garage at his office.  He didn’t say much when he called.  Just told my mother he was okay and that his office was closing early.  He was going to do a few things and then try to make his way back home.

My family has always been the stiff upper lip sort.  None of us are big huggers or criers.  My father spent 35 years of his professional career as a journalist.  From the short time I spent as a journalist, I know the profession numbs you to many of life’s tragedies.  You form a hard outer shell around your tender emotions and don’t get too close to anything, simply out of self-preservation.

When he got home that afternoon, for the first time in my life I saw my father cry.  He hugged my mother and I very tightly.  Then he sat for several hours, staring dumbly at the television.

The fear we all felt that day was horrific, worse still was the bitter anger.  So many of us felt the need to lash out and often in totally the wrong direction.  Worse still, so many us either lost a loved one or knew someone who did.  There was a constant need to feel like we were doing something about this, but precious little to do.

That Friday, a group of us booked the large conference room at the office.  Everyone brought candles and at 3 p.m. went up to that room, turned off the lights and lit the candles.  One of the women in the group began to quietly pray.  Slowly, we all joined in saying the Lord’s Prayer.  It wasn’t much, but we were finally doing something.

6 thoughts on “The Tenth Anniversary

  1. Amy, the tragedy struck much closer to home for you than for me. Don and I lived in Douglas County, on some country acreage. I wrote on my children’s books on most days, but this particular day, I was on my way into Ava for groceries. As usual, I turned on NPR and heard the reports. We had no cell phone at that point and I went on into town. It was only after I got back home that Don, who had been working outside the entire time, learned about it. We immediately turned on the TV and were glued to the screen in horror for all the rest of the day.
    Other than the immense sadness at the common tragedy that we all feel when something like this happens to our nation, I have only been affected in two ways. Of course, the heightened level of screening affects me when I fly but the worst effect of all is the effect it’s had on our economy, and my personal estate, as we have squandered our national treasure, including the life’s blood of so many of our men and women in the armed forces, by going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Great Recession was made much worse because we had so few monetary resources on which to draw and we’ll feel that particular effect for many years.
    Thanks for sharing your experience on 9/11. I hope lots of others will too.

  2. What an traumatic day it was ten years ago. Lee and I were in Dublin it happens and feeling stranded. Recently we were in NYC and saw the gaping hole of Ground Zero where someday a monument will be completed.

    Here in Boston special observances will be held on 9/11…significant that the ten year anniversary is on a Sunday. It was from Logan Airport that the two airplanes took off (United fl 175 & American fl 11) which decimated both Twin Towers. So this has a personal side. The Globe has told stories of those who survived…like the stewardess calling in sick and thus not boarding the flight bound for LA.

    Let it not be a time however for vengeance but for remembrance. Evil cannot be overcome by resentment but only by forbearance. Though thinking about past tragedies we must ponder on future opportunities for understanding and peace.
    Bill

  3. It’s still a horrible feeling knowing that 2 of the high jackers spent the night right here in South Portland Maine. They bought their box cutter’s here at the local Walmart.
    I can’t believe it’s already been ten years. The world changed that day.

  4. Amy, what a powerful first-person account. I, too, watched over and over as they kept replaying the events, but from the safety of my family room in Springfield. I’m sure newrooms were chaotic but I was floored by the statement made by a broadcaster when the lst building collapsed. He didn’t seem to realize what was happening. He just said something like, “What is that? What’s going on?” and I yelled at the TV, “You idoit! The building just imploded!” Emotions were indeed raw.

  5. I remember that day so well–I was teaching 6th grade at Pershing Middle School. At school, once the bell rings, all TVs and radios were off and the learning begins. I taught all morning and had just dismissed my students to lunch, when my teaching partner came in from across the hall. He told me to turn on my TV. He was quite the jokester on a typical day, but that day, his face was somber and his eyes were sad. I quickly set down my own lunch and turned on my classroom television, and the images were unforgettable. By that time (lunch time) the events had already taken place and all a group of helpless teachers could do was stare at the TV until the students came back. We had a table full of uneaten lunches and several tissues.

    The students did not know anything when they came back–this was before all middle school students carried (obligatory) cell phones. They had no access to televisions, therefore they remained oblivious as to why their teachers were in a state of shock.

    The next day was the hardest day. The students had questions that I could not answer. Their parents did not know how to answer their inquiries, and therefore left it to the schools. We received an email from our principal telling us to not le the students watch the news reels in class, nor to talk about the events “too much.” But how could we just sweep their questions under the rug? We did the very best we could to explain a very grown-up concept to a group of students that were maturing on the outside but still babies on the inside.

    As the days and weeks flew by, we answered fewer and fewer questions via our students, yet were more confused as adults. When they asked, we could not guarantee our students that it would not happen in Springfield. When they asked, we could not guarantee our students that it wouldn’t ever happen again in America. We could just keep teaching and teaching and teaching, hoping and praying that our students grow into fascinating and questioning and thoughtful citizens.

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