(Editor’s note: This post was originally written for the 10th anniversary of the day that changed our country forever. Here is a reprise.)
Anyone who was an adult eleven years ago vividly remembers where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. Here’s my story.
It was a beautiful, clear and sunny morning in Johnson City, Tennessee, the place I had called home since moving south 16 years prior. I was the marketing director for Hunter, Smith & Davis law firm. We were hosting our large, annual employment law seminar at Millennium Centre in Johnson City. We had a good crowd that morning and things were moving along smoothly. I was standing in the back of the room watching one of our attorneys’ presentations when a Firm partner, Mike Forrester, slipped in the door and whispered, “Did you hear that a plane hit the World Trade Center?” Immediately my mind began processing this odd bit of information. My husband enjoys flying small planes for a hobby and I tried to envision some crazy pilot in a single engine aircraft hitting such a massive structure. “Is the weather bad in New York?” I whispered back. “No,” was his answer.
Moments later Mike and I and several others were piled out in the hallway watching the televisions that hung from the Centre’s ceilings. It was, in fact, a beautiful day in New York just as it was in Tennessee. And this was no small plane crash. As we watched the story unfold on CNN, reality slowly began to sink in. These were major aircraft and this was no accident. A secondary story unfolding before my eyes was the reaction of the people at the seminar. The attorneys kept their cool. One of our senior partners said, “If we stop now we give them exactly what they want.” And so the seminar went on. One person who worked at the Centre however was not so calm. I had to repeatedly reassure him that the world was not coming to an end. We did not all carry mobile phones with us ten years ago as we do today. I had to borrow a phone from a friend in order to attempt to reach my husband who was employed at a nuclear defense plant. His work voicemail said that the plant had been evacuated and he would be in a safe area. And so I returned to the TV set and watched with horror as people ran from the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings. I recall feeling eerily that it was like watching a bad “grade B” movie. I also recall the calm steadiness of Scott Powers, an Annapolis grad and attorney for the firm as our eyes were cast upward. Our attorneys assured people who needed to go to check on their employees or loved ones to please do so but you would be surprised how many people stayed for the luncheon that concluded the session. There was comfort and assurance in being in a large group in a safe, secure building far from New York City or the Pentagon.
I recall that a close friend was very upset that her four year old kept watching the scene re-played as he stayed with his grandmother. “He keeps thinking it’s happening over and over,” she bemoaned. It was a very upsetting day for all of us who lived through it and a turning point for our country. Never again would we experience the freedoms that we had back then. If the United States were a dog we were probably a big, lovable Labrador until that time. After September 11th we became a snarling Pit Bull much more wary and cautious.
There were some good things to come from the tragedy. One first-hand example was our son. He was born in the baby boomlet that followed 9-11. He will never know the America I knew prior to that day. To him, removing his shoes at airport security is second nature, just as it is to have liquids over three ounces confiscated.
Each year when the video re-plays of the burning twin towers begin airing, I generally cast my eyes in the other direction or change the channel. “I was there. I lived through it,” I mutter, much as a veteran chooses not to watch a war film. This year avoiding the images will be nearly impossible as most every channel is already running features on the historic tragedy. Perhaps I will watch. Perhaps I’ll go for a walk with my son instead.
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