Saturday, September 10, 2011

Musings on September 11

(photo courtesy of

I can't believe it was 10 years ago.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was driving in my car, on the way to a meeting, and I was listening to talk radio to pass the time.  (Mindless, tasteless, and hilariously funny radio, specifically: the Howard Stern Show.  Now wait!  Before you pass judgement, if you are inclined to do so, please don't.  Whether you find him horrible, insulting, or just crass, don't let that cloud the story.)  So I'm driving from my office in Fairfax to my meeting in Alexandria when they stop joking around and start talking very seriously about what is developing on the news at the World Trade Center.   I heard and saw the whole thing through their eyes and descriptions, and it was gut wrenching, especially as it continued to worsen.

Then when it was announced that the Pentagon had been attacked also, I felt the wind whoosh right out of me and I had to pull over.  My Dad worked at the Pentagon.  It only took me about a split second to think through and process the fact that he was out of town on a trip and not in the building that day, but the emotional torrent brought on by even having to go through that split second thought process is something I'll never forget, ever.  I called my husband and asked if he had heard what happened and said how grateful I was that Dad wasn't there and we were both crying into the phone.  From the direction my car was facing on the side of the road I could see a huge plume of billowing smoke from the direction of the Pentagon.  What a sickening sight.

Next the fear kicked up.  No way I was going to keep driving toward all that going on, nor was I going to sit through some mundane meeting when I was such an emotional and frightened wreck, so I called to cancel the meeting and turned around to head home.  Most people were told to stay put wherever they were, so traffic wasn't too much of an issue.  But as I was headed back toward home, which was in the direction of one of the airports,  there were reports that while they were working on grounding all aircraft, there were still one or two unaccounted for planes they were concerned about in the area of that airport.  I still couldn't fight the overpowering homing instinct, and I made it home safely.  Where I then proceeded to watch the news and see replay of what was described to me on the radio over and over for the whole mind numbing rest of the day and night.

I don't remember how long it was before we stopped fearing further attack, it was at least through the next day.  But what I do remember very clearly is the haze of depression that followed.  That next morning, my husband went out and bought every different newspaper he could find because even though we already had most of the information, the headlines and photos were so shocking to see in print.  We still have them in a box today.  (Maybe when our son is a little older we'll take them out and pore through them with him and explain things a little deeper than we will this weekend, but he's just 6 now, it's too soon.)  Through that first weekend afterward I kept thinking how awful it would be if you had anything happy planned for that weekend, particularly a wedding.  I also kept thinking how grateful I was not to have a child yet and not to be ready for one yet, because I felt it was such a terrible world right then to bring a new innocent life into.  It took a while to shake off those feelings.  The only silver lining of that aftermath was how filled with pride, unity, determination, and patriotism the country shared in the months that followed.

I never did drive by the Pentagon during the time the flag was hung on it and it was under repair.  Something about actually seeing it in person just didn't work for me, I never really wanted to.  I have since been on a tour of it for my Mom's retirement ceremonies which did include the 9/11 Memorial, so I'm very glad I had that opportunity.  My Dad is also now retired and working in the private sector.  I've only been to New York once as an adult, just a couple of years ago, but we didn't have enough time to visit Ground Zero.  I want very much to see that memorial someday now that it is completed, I think it's an important thing to go absorb.  Lastly, I was and still am filled with the most intense awe, respect, and deep gratitude for the folks who acted on Flight 93.  I can't get over how amazing it is that they took matters into their own hands, and I'd like very much to pay respects to them in person one day, too.

It is still humbling to me to this day when I think about how brave and selfless people can be, be they innocent civilians who stood their ground to protect their fellow countrymen, noble first responders who ran into burning and perilous buildings, strangers trying to help one another in a time of crisis, and people put on the front line of the wars which have followed.  Every tribute I see this weekend is probably going to make me cry, and I have a lump in my throat just thinking about telling my kid in the mildest possible way about the awful things that happened and why people are still thinking about it a lot 10 years later.  That period in time will always leave an emotional scar, and I was lucky enough not to lose anyone.

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