The morning started like any other morning. I’m sure I’d argued with my son about hurrying up and that – yes, pants were required – because I needed to get to work. A normal morning. Routine. I had no inkling of the horror about to unfold.
As I sat at work in the pre-smartphone and pre-streaming era, after getting my kindergartner safely to school, I received a phone call from a coworker. She was in shock and told me she would be late because a plane had just flown into one of the towers at the World Trade Center and she was watching the news.
My first thought was disbelief, but my mind quickly moved to the how. How could a plane hit something so huge? Surely, there must have been some kind of catastrophic mechanical failure. I believe we even talked about that, but cannot be sure. I was the only person in that office that knew that anything had happened and now I had to tell the others when I had no answers.
As I spoke, she broke off midsentence and started crying and screaming, “Oh my God! It happened again! Another plane just hit the other tower! What the hell?! What the **** is happening?” Those are the only words I remember clearly from that conversation.
I switched on the radio on my desk and heard the radio account. The normally boisterous DJs were sullen and reserved. Reverent. Shocked. I ran from my desk and told the others what was happening.
To my knowledge, we had only one TV in that building. It was in the head honcho’s office. Several of us bolted up to that office to learn any new information that was available. As we stood around, I remember the tears starting to fall. I don’t remember any words being spoken.
As the events of the day unfolded, we learned of missing planes found: one at the Pentagon, one in a field. We learned of the heroes on board those planes. We learned of their phone calls and their families.
Being in a military town, everything closed. People were afraid to move around. Airspace was closed. I left to pick up my son, who asked me why someone would do that to people. I had no answers. None of us did.
An eerie silence filled the next few days. There were no planes, other than fighter jets ceaselessly patrolling. Getting on base was a several-hours-long effort. Retail stores were closed.
We had tickets to an outdoor concert that was turned into a benefit concert. We attended and I still remember the fighter jets flying overhead. People were generous and gave all they could spare to help, people were kind, and people were respectful of others. People hugged veterans and thanked them for their service.
The images on the television were haunting. The stories of the people began to surface. The country was suddenly united in an undeniable way.
Through it all, we learned the true meaning of the word “hero”. They were the first responders. They were the search and rescue groups, dogs and humans alike. They were the relief first responders who left their families to help their first responder brothers and sisters. They were the military police who kept the bases safe. They were the fighter pilots on endless patrol. They were the passengers and crew who saved lives by diverting another large-scale attack by crashing into a desolate field. They were the survivors.
Our country is divided, but my prayer is this: on the anniversary of these horrific events, may we remember the lives lost and the solidarity of the American people as we searched for answers and comfort together 17 years ago.
My daughter was born after 9/11. She has never traveled without TSA or without the threat of shattered peace and comfort. She understands the tears on some level because she has seen the images, but to her, it’s history. She will never be able to grasp the realization that life changed that morning forever.
I still think about those who were directly impacted by death that day. The children who grew up without a parent. The spouses who became widows. The first responders who witnessed the aftermath firsthand, and breathed the air thick with dust and flames. The search and rescue personnel who dedicated so many sleepless days to find missing loved ones.
Be a hero today. Forgive someone who isn’t sorry. Tell someone you love them. Help someone in need. Be a friend. Be generous. Life is fleeting and can vanish in an instant. Honor those lives lost and transformed almost two decades ago. Never forget.