Many of us have a story about 9/11. This is mine.
On September 11, 2001, I lived in Washington, D.C. I woke up that morning excited for my first international trade show in Amsterdam—I was to fly out that night.
Bags already packed, I was leaving for the office when I learned a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers. I remember thinking that it was a bizarre fluke, and I flicked off the news and headed out the door.
As I walked into the lobby of my office, I saw on the giant TV screen a plane crashing into the Tower. At the time, I didn’t realize that was the second plane, not a replay of the first.
It took a while for us all in the office to grasp what was happening. My memory is fuzzy on the details.
I remember reassuring my boss that I was not scared to fly out that night, annoyed at the prospect of my flight being delayed and plans canceled.
I remember a brief meeting to recap our show strategy, interrupted when a colleague informed us a plane had just hit the Pentagon.
I remember 8 of us crowding around my boss’ small TV, watching in horror as people jumped from the towers. When the Towers crumbled, I remember we all went silent. The silence was finally broken by David, whose broken voice uttered “they couldn’t possibly have all gotten out.”
I remember looking out my office window and seeing the smoke that was rising up from the Pentagon. It was a clear day—you could see it billowing thickly up into the clouds.
And I remember being afraid, truly afraid for the first time in my life, when we heard that a fourth was plane missing. We had no idea that it had already crashed—all we knew was that it was headed our way.
I remember trying in vain to reach my husband (then boyfriend) who worked on Capitol Hill. He wasn’t answering his office line, and his cell phone was busy. (As with New York, cell phones were hard to get through on—networks were overloaded.)
I remember going out to the patio with my coworker, cringing in fear when we heard an aircraft overhead—a response I would have to the sound for weeks thereafter.
I remember when our office went on lockdown, and we had to decide whether we would stay or leave. The news warned us that the bridges getting out of the city were jammed with traffic, and, as was the Metro, vulnerable to attack.
I decided that I would try to find my husband, and I walked the two or so miles in heels to his apartment in Cleveland Park. He wasn’t there, and I still could not reach him on his cell phone.
While I worried about him, my family and friends worried about me, not knowing if I was on that flight from DC. My mother (who knew that I wasn’t on one of the planes that crashed) was worried I was stuck on a grounded plane somewhere in the country—a situation that two of my colleagues found themselves in. They didn’t make it home for days.
Unable to walk another 3 miles in heels to my apartment, I braved the metro home. That was one of the strangest rides I ever took—it was a virtual ghost town.
My husband finally made it to my apartment hours later. His office had been in a panic—they heard a plane was headed right for them and rumors about other attacks on the Hill—and he had been evacuated out of the city.
I remember when, weeks later, I drove by the Pentagon and saw the gaping hole and the destruction. Pictures and images on TV didn’t do it justice.
I remember wondering about the fate of the two New York City firefighters I had gotten to know over the years through trade shows in New York. Both survived. Louie had been stuck in Texas on vacation. Jim wound up on the cover of a 9/11 Heroes book.
I remember seeing armed soldiers guarding National Airport for the first time—something that I had only seen in other countries’ airports—and it drove home our lost sense of security.
I remember when the barriers first went up around the White House, blocking traffic from driving down the road in front. Never again would I be able to drive by the White House and wave.
Needless to say, I never made it to Amsterdam that year. Instead, arrangements were made for an American Flag to hang in our empty booth. We didn’t know it at the time, but some of our British friends had placed a makeshift memorial in our space. The following year, a number of industry colleagues from various countries made a point to stop by and express their sympathy and support.
I am fortunate to not have lost any family or friends on September 11, or any at all to terror. And still, the events of that day have had an enormous impact on my life.
It’s one of the reasons my husband quit his job on the Hill and decided to become a Rabbi, and one of the reasons why I have chosen a career in the non-profit world. Like millions of Americans, it opened my eyes to how vulnerable we all are, how fleeting our security and how brief our lives can be.
Today I remember all those who perished on 9/11, and the brave men and women who risked their lives to save another.
May their memories be for a blessing.