Ten years ago today, at 8:45 a,m, I was in my car with the radio on. I had dropped my sons off at school and was on the return leg of the journey. The radio host then did something I'd never heard before - he stopped his interview and announced that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. It took about 4 seconds. Then the interview resumed and I thought to myself that it must have been some small plane like a Cessna that was in difficulties. You know, like when a plane loses its bearings in the fog and flies into a mountain.
A couple of minutes later, the announcer again broke in to say something else about the plane but, as before, normal programming resumed.
At this point I decided something serious was going on and that I needed to switch to an all news channel. What I found there was horribly akin to the radio announcements broadcast during the Hindenburg tragedy.
I called John on my cell phone and said "You'd better turn on the TV - it sounds as though all hell is breaking loose."
Within a few minutes I was home watching the whole thing unfold. I won't give you the play by play of our lives that morning but here are a few of the memories that most stand out:
Being on the phone with a friend talking about what was going on when she shouted "Oh my god! Another one!" as the second plane hit the second tower.
Almost everything I saw on the screen looked like an action movie, which made it hard to grasp the reality of it. Until I saw the people jumping. And knew they were real. And they were dying.
Sitting on the couch with John and our 2 year old daughter. We were watching in horror, she was oblivious and playing with my face the way toddlers do. Her absolute lack of understanding of the moment coupled with our all too complete knowledge of it took my breath away.
Frantic phone calls among friends which yielded the discovery that one of my best friend's husbands was in Washington for a conference and was in a hotel across from the Pentagon. and another friend's brother-in-law was actually in the second tower in an office on the 75th floor. Thankfully he got out. But only because they began to evacuate the second tower when the first one was hit. Tragically, when he and some co-workers were about halfway down, they were given the all clear and told they could go back to their offices. Some did, some didn't. Those who did died.
One of my most compelling memories comes from the end of that school day when I went to pick up my sons. The decision at their school had been to tell the children nothing of what had transpired. The teachers were outside dismissing the students smiling at them and shaking their hands goodbye as they do everyday. Not a hair out of place. Then, I saw my son's teacher get into a car behind me and collapse into a storm of grief. What it must have taken for her to keep her composure all day on the job, I can only imagine.
And in the aftermath - two days of utter silence overhead. Not one plane in the sky. Not one jet plume. It was a silence that was actually palpable. Almost as if we held our breath for two whole days.
Watching events unfold on that horrible day, I knew life would never be the same. I knew airport security and a million other little things about how we live our lives would be affected. But 9/11 also affected me in some ways for which I was not prepared.
One is that I have become uncomfortable in large crowds - especially in confined spaces. When we attended our nephew's college graduation a few years ago, thousands of people were making their way through the lobby and up the stairs of the fieldhouse where the ceremony would be held. As I stood in the crowd holding my small daughter's hand, someone next to me pushed ahead and almost broke our handhold. In that moment, I became afraid of two things - that if I lost my child in the crowd, she would be trampled or smothered, and that if, for any reason we had to evacuate the building, there were not enough clear paths to the exit for all of us to get out quickly. I turned right around with all three kids and took them outside to play in the grass until the ceremony was over, figuring I would see my nephew afterward at the party and that he would understand.
I know that this fear is largely a result of hearing the stories of those who survived 9/11 but almost did not make it out of the building.
Please observe this day in whatever manner you see fit - I know that part of my day will be spent taking some quiet time away from strip deadlines and festival planning to sit with my family and just enjoy the time we have together.
The above cartoon is part of the 9/11 memorial project in which 93 cartoonists participated. You can read more about it here.