Saturday, September 10, 2011

The World Watched...

My blog focuses so much on frivolity on such a regular basis that I need to remind myself that since it is my blog I can take it to a more serious level.

I almost didn't write this post.  It feels so raw to even put these words in the computer, and it has been ten years.  I could write about it when it all happened, but now, in 2011, I feel my heart beating, my palms sweating, my eyes tearing up, I can feel the pain, adrenaline, and anxiety like it is happening now, even though I am just sitting in my lower level living room.

I never really talk about my past, I feel like you all know enough of me, you have seen me (for the good and the bad) for the past 2.5 years on a nearly daily basis.  I feel like I could go on being my sunny, pollyanna-ish self and you would all be none the wiser.  (I like to have a good game face.)

But it is disingenuous for me to not write about September 11, 2001.  It affected EVERYONE in this United States and throughout many nations in the world, and since I have a (small) voice, I would like to have a chance to send out my words through a post focused on prayer, remembrance, hope, family, and moving forward thoughtfully.

I worked in the House of Representatives on September 11, 2001.  I had gotten up super-early that morning to go to Brenner's Bakery so I could order my wedding cake (our wedding was October 13, 2001) and get on the road into DC before 8:30 am so I could start setting up for the Committee hearing we were set to have that morning (I was a clerk for the subcommittee on parks and public lands at that time).  On the drive, I was able to quickly drive to my building (and sadly see the Pentagon whole for one last time).  Hearing mornings were always crazy, all hands on deck taking care of witnesses, getting copies of agendas, bills, etc., in the right hands, setting up the dais for the members so they would have all their necessaries, from glasses of water, pens, their mikes working, etc.

The news was always on, no matter what.  Every TV always...even in December, right before Christmas.

The legislative counsel in our office said, "OMG, the World Trade Center, it's been hit by a plane."  We all just sat there, that possible, real?  Was it a small plane?  Who could be a pilot and not see a hulking, super-tall building and not be able to veer around it?

I called my dad and told him, he was also in wonder.  We figured the story was big, but something "they" could figure out and fix.

Then, while watching the coverage in the middle of getting papers together, we all saw it, the second plane.  United Airlines 175.  Into the second WTC building.

My heart dropped.  My throat closed.  I started shaking as I called my dad.

"They're coming, dad.  They are on their way.  DC is going to be next.  Somewhere HERE is next, dad." 

He, to his credit, tried to talk me down from the edge.  But I couldn't relax.  My youth was spent 2 miles from the Pentagon in Arlington at the height of the Cold War in the mid-80s.  I grew up with images of USSR pushing the proverbial button and "ground zero" (the middle open portion of the Pentagon) exploding into fragments, the nuclear blast reaching this city, its suburbs, and down to Richmond, and up to Baltimore.  It wasn't a "normal" fear of a ten-year old, but it was mine.  By 17, and the wall had come down, I relaxed.  It felt good.  But I always had that part of me hibernating.  (Studies say fears of youth are very strong and hard to get over, try as we might.)

"NO, DAD," I yelled, "it is happening...they are going to get us."  I was hyperventilating at this time.

No one knew what to do.  We knew we would have a moment of silence when the hearing started, but others in our building were like me, in flight mode.  Our building was across the street from the Capitol, and as a symbol of America, many of us felt we were next.  But some weren't sure there would be a "next."  I clearly was not the Pollyanna that day.

I tried, but I was having a hard time keeping my act together.

Then it was 9:37 am.  The corridor I had JUST driven down was a corridor used to fly a plane into our nation's symbol of defense.  And a gaping hole with a huge plume of smoke appeared.  We could see the plume from our office.


And then the calls started coming in, to every phone in the office.  My future mother-in-law called.  She was disconnected.  Mr. Dina (or Mr. Future Dina) called, I told him I didn't know what to do, through my crying.  My dad called, he said "get the hell out of there."

There was still talk of staying in the building, that this would be safest, but thankfully, those folks were quickly shut down, and we were all told to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.  DO NOT GO TO YOUR CARS.  FIND SHELTER SOMEWHERE in the city, anywhere safe.

I grabbed two of the interns (God bless them, it was only their second day on the job and they were from UTAH!!!) and I took them with me to a co-worker's apartment ten blocks down from the Capitol building.  It wasn't far enough away, but I figured we would be safe enough.

The run (we ran) to the building was surreal.  Congressmen and congresswomen were urging us to go, be safe, find shelter.  My strongest memory from that day was when Grace Napolitano, a California congresswoman, kindly looked at us and said, "please go, be safe, take care of yourselves."  I still see her and hear her saying those words and always call upon that image when I need reassurance.  She may never know how appreciative I am for her kindness that day, but I am utterly grateful to her.

The day was spent praying, speaking, calling home, focusing on safety, and hoping that it would all be done.  I was told not to leave the city until I had word that the bridges were safe into Virginia, but we were able to get the (understandbly) shaken interns to the metro to go home.

Finally I got the word that the bridges were clear and that if folks left in DC needed to go home to Virginia, they could, but that no one would be permitted back in.  I thanked my co-worker for her generosity of sharing her apartment with us, and I got my car (one of the only ones left in the garage), and drove home.

Eeriness abounded on the drive.  I was one of maybe five cars on the highway (I was one of the last ones to leave the city...I erred on the side of caution when choosing when to hit the road).  It wasn't an exceptionally long drive, and on good traffic days, I could make it home in ten minutes, tops.  I did so that afternoon, but the drive past the smoldering hulk of the Pentagon made the trip seem twice as long.  The smell was horrific and acrid.  I cried again.  The tears still come, clearly, but I must have shed bucketfuls that day.

I made it home.  I found my loved ones, I know I was fortunate.  The anxiety, the fear, the tears, the adrenaline, it all was there, but so was all my hope, my love, my future.

Of course we all know the ending to the story.  Thousands dead in NYC.  Hundreds dead in DC.  Heroic men and women dead in Shanksville, PA.  All at the hands of hate.

I know people who lost that day.  I know of my dear friend whose husband was in the Pentagon, their young love full of thoughts of future babies, trips together, missions to accomplish...all lost in an instant because of angry insanity.

There were men and women, out to do their daily routines, who never made it home to their loved ones.  And their loved ones were left.

My friend, she had a brave face, but there was so much pain.  You could see the mental fortitude she exhibited every day she came to work.  She had a frame of jell-o, ready to collapse at a moment's notice, but a foundation of stone which held her up.  I was in awe of her strength.  I have since read that she is doing well for herself and focused on doing good in the world, and still, I stand in awe of her. 

There is so much to focus on tomorrow.

There is reflection.  The time to reflect on the events that transpired in those morning hours which forever will be part of the American story.

There is remembrance.  The time to remember all the men, women, and children whose time on earth was cut far too short.

There is hope.  The time to hope that through hindsight and focused foresight we can become a stronger nation of people from this day.

There is love.  The time to love and remember its powerful impact on our lives and the lives around ups.

There is family.  The time to spend with the people we need the most, the ones who know us and support us, through it all.

I will be spending the day with all these above.  Thank you for allowing me a moment of gravity on my blog.