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Friday, September 9, 2011

Where Were You On 9-11?

All this week, the media has been remembering 9-11 since this year marks the 10th anniversary of that fateful day.

Things have changed a lot in this country. Some good. Some bad. There was a lot of armchair quarterbacking after the fact, but I think for the most part the US acted correctly. We grounded all air traffic and scrambled the F-16s.

That was the big picture, but you hardly ever hear about what happened to the individuals, one human to another. 

On September 11, 2001, I was living in Dallas. Greg lived on the Texas Gulf coast (still does). I had just finished a staff meeting when I passed by a cubicle with the radio on. At first the reports were sketchy. We all thought it was a horrible accident--until the second airplane hit the other tower. 

Within minutes I started receiving frantic emails from my family in Chicago and a phone call from Greg. Everyone wanted to be assured the other was safe. A couple of hours later, when our worst suspicions had been verified, I got a call from the director of our company ordering me to send everyone home.

It was just as well. The only thing on our minds were our families.

Greg was at work. His chemical plant sits directly under the flight path of the city's main airport. Plane after plane came down in a thunderous cascade that didn't stop. As soon as he heard the abrupt landings, he realized immediately that the US was throwing out a security net. We had to separate the good guys from the bad guys.

Meanwhile in Dallas, I debated the wisdom of keeping two households. Dallas had had a few warnings and evacuations because of bomb scares. It was even less safe on the Texas coast where petrochemical plants became secondary targets.

Security protocols were tightened and every threat was considered serious. A terrorist bomb at a chemical plant with toxic chemicals could kill millions. Nobody was taking any chances.

Greg, who is an Incident Commander on the Industrial Rescue Brigade was put on standby. His group, as well as dozens of others were ready to mobilize at a moment's notice. At my company, we industrialized entire departments to build food banks, blood drives, and care packages. Some of my younger friends enlisted in the military that very week.

We were sucker-punched, but the bad guys didn't even come close to bringing us down.

For the first time in a long time, I was really proud at how people put aside their differences to help total strangers--not just in this country, but all over the world.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I felt vulnerable not having Greg nearby, but I also felt empowered, knowing that other people depended on me.

When Greg finally came home to me a week later, I kissed him hard, not just for myself, but for all the people who weren't as lucky as I was that night.

Where were you on September 11?


Sarah Ahiers said...

I was in class at the U of M, in my arthurian literature class actually. The i was supposed to go to my french class but i blew it off and walked home instead. That's when my roommate told me what was going on. None of us in classes had any idea. They didn't even close school until like 6pm, which pissed a lot of us off.
And then i had to go to work at B&N

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: It makes me wonder if you got many customers that day. Most everyone I talked to went home--but then most of them worked in high-rise offices.

Anonymous said...

I was seven months pregnant with beastie #2.

The alarm, to get me up for work, had gone off and instead of the expected music all I heard with "the Trade Center has been hit." Yeah, jack-knifed out of bed. At first That Man and I thought it was another bomb but then we turned on the TV.

The towers fell as I walked into work. We were in a daze all day. The small airport near by and Intel went into lock down.

A very surreal day. You never realize how much traffic and noise we live with until it's suddenly gone. Our house was in the flight path for the international airport, and it was eery.

Being on the west coast there was no real fear we'd be hit, at least not at my level. Lots of phone calls back and forth, lots of family dinners and being thankful we were together, gathering of care packages, and sending friends off to help.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: That must have been awful for you being that pregnant at the time.

I agree with you on the noise level. When I lived there, I drove past DFW, one of the largest airports in the world. There wasn't any hour in the day I didn't see 5-6 airplanes in the sky at one time. But on 9-11 and for several days later, the skies were eerily still.

Mike Keyton said...

Where was I? Marking students' work in the staffroom. The Head of Department came in and passed on the news. That night, like everyone else in Britain we were glued to the news in shock, seeing a disaster movie come real. What you say is true, it is only when disaster strikes that the spirit shines - but that is poor recompense for those who have actually lost.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: I often wondered what the reaction was in the UK. We didn't have Twitter then. When you guys recently had those riots, I followed along with to the minute reporting by people on the streets.

It'll be interesting to see how we'll get our news ten years from now.

Krista D. Ball said...

It was hours after the planes hit and my boyfriend called me to ask if I'd been watching the news. I tend to avoid disaster-style news reports (I didn't realize New Orleans was as bad as it was for over a week, for example).

Since today is probably going to be filled with a lot of gloom, here is a story about 9/11 that I've always found really interesting. It's about how the town of Gander doubled its population to take in American flyers.

It's a big day there. The American ambassador to Canada is going to be on hand. --

And, a little happy video: Sometimes, in the darkest moments, we discover that most people have huge hearts.

Maria Zannini said...

Krista: The Canadians really came through for us in a big way.

Another Canadian community created a convoy to carry many of the USians back to their homes by car. Some traveled as far south as California.

When I mentioned how proud I was of the international community, this is what I was talking about. Thank you.

Angelina Rain said...

On that day, I was a sophomore in high school and my seasonal allergies were bothering me so I called in sick. I turned on the radio that morning and they were talking about a plane flying into a tower. I thought they were talking about some movie. I turned off the radio and turned on the TV. That’s when I realized it wasn’t fiction. A few hours later, a friend of mine called and said that the whole day at school they were watching the news and then they closed down the school early. My mom was watching the news at work the whole day rather than doing her job. And my dad, who’s in construction, was putting on siding on a vacant house so he didn’t get to see any news or listen to radio. It wasn’t until he got in his car on the way home that he realized what happened. He said that on the way home, most stores were closed. It seemed like most of Chicago shut down.

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: It is amazingly scary when giant cities like Chicago and Dallas shut down. You just don't see things like that in a normal lifespan.

LD Masterson said...

I blogged about personal 9/11 memories today as well but I didn't think to mention this one - my daughter-in-law was in China on a professional exchange trip on 9/11. My son's biggest concern was how to get her home. They were making arrangements to fly her to Canada and drive from there when the ban on international flights was lifted.

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: So many of my friends were stranded in other countries. I didn't realize until that day how global we were.

--of course, lately, I never seem to go anywhere. :)

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I was eating breakfast before I had to leave for class at the University of Houston. I remember the interruption message and then watching the footage. After the second plane crashed, I called my husband at work and he advised me to stay home from school that day. I'm glad I did. The roads in Houston were jammed and classes were ultimately canceled. The next day, in one of my English classes, everyone seemed scared and tense. The prof came in, began her lecture, really looked at all of us, closed her notes and said, "Okay. Let's talk about this." I'll remember that forever.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I was home--pregnant--watching the Today show when Matt Lauer got the news on his ear piece and suddenly took a break. When they came back, he announced what had happened.
I was glued to the TV all day.
My hubby eventually banned me from watching anymore because I was getting so upset and emotional and he was worried about the baby.
Like you, I remember it like it was yesterday too.

Tara Maya said...

I happened to be in a Muslim country, as a humanitarian volunteer. We found out when one volunteer received a text message from her boyfriend. The local, government controlled television had no news about it, so we had to drive to a hotel to watch CNN. I was terrified because my mom was supposed to be on a plane to Washington D.C. that day. At another table, a group of drunk men were laughing. Yes, LAUGHING.

The feeling I had, worrying that my mom might be dead, feeling my country was under attack, listening to people laugh as the news showed the planes crashing into the building... I experienced a terrible helpless rage I had never felt before and hope never to feel again.

(My mom was ok, btw. Her trip had been postponed, thank goodness.)

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: I remember wanting to stay home the next day. I didn't like being so exposed in the big city, but it was better for me to stay busy than to worry at home.

Jennifer: I don't doubt your hubby banned tv for you.

Maria Zannini said...

Tara: Oh. My. God. I wouldn't have traded places with you for any reason.

As frightened as you were for your mother, I can only imagine what she must've been feeling for you. I hope you managed to get out of there as quickly as possible.

How ironic to be there for humanitarian reasons only to be subjected to such hostility.

You are one very brave lady.

Unknown said...

I was in NYC. The place I've lived and worked my whole life. I'd lost my mom only two years earlier, and my aunt worked at World Trade 7. For those unfamiliar with the Manhattan landscape at the time, it was the building directly across the street from the twin towers.

My husband's friend, Charlie, worked at Windows on the World, the beautiful restaurant that sat at the top of the World Trade Center. Charlie went into work early that day and never made it home.

My family was lucky. My aunt did come home. She raced out of the building like so many others that day by using the staircase - fifty stories down. As the Towers came crashing around them, she got pushed to the ground my a stranger who covered her body with his own. We still don't know the stranger's name, but we are so thankful for him. It took hours upon hours for her to walk - as no public transportation ran that day - through downtown Manhattan, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and into Brooklyn. When we finally got the call that she was alive - and needed a ride - I hopped in my car with my uncle and rushed to get her. The look on her face, the soot on her clothes, the lack of one shoe, broke my heart and yet, I was so thankful she was alive.

September 11th changed so many lives. I still grieve for the families who couldn't pick up their loved ones that day and pray that the memorial gives them a sense of peace.

Enid Wilson said...

I was driving down a bridge and heard the radio broadcast. I couldn't believe that the twin towers could be brought down by planes. It was like movie plots but with real people dying.

Every Savage Can Reproduce

Maria Zannini said...

Tina: My sincere condolences for the loss of your husband's friend. I'm so glad your aunt made it home.

As I read your story, the emotion was palpable. I cannot even imagine the fear and anxiety you must have felt that day.

Your story haunts me.

Maria Zannini said...

Enid: It was the most cowardly act I've ever witnessed in my life.

Dru said...

I had just left the doctor’s office and couldn’t figure out why the trains weren’t running into the city. I tried to call the office and I couldn’t get through so I went home and couldn’t believe what I was looking at when I looked out my window. Then my sister called to tell me that she couldn’t find my nephew who was at the WTC looking for work. We were so frantic until my nephew called to let us he was okay. Later, I found several pieces of stationery on my terrace from the WTC fallout.

Tara Maya said...

Tina, I can't imagine what you and your aunt must have gone through. I am thankful for the way so many good people instinctively reacted to protect each other. Those acts of kindness helped many people beyond those immediately saved, because it gave us hope in people.

julie fedderson said...

I was at work when the news came on the patient waiting room TV. We all stood around for the rest of the morning watching, unable to even speak. Everyone cancelled their appointments. People were frightened to leave their homes, even here in Omaha, especially when Bush flew to the Air Force base here. I've never felt so helpless, watching those scenes and being able to do nothing but be horrified.

Maria Zannini said...

Dru: I was hoping you'd share your experience. I'm glad your nephew was safe. It was a scary time for all of us.

Tara: That instinctive desire to protect took me off guard. I've seen people go out of their way to help, but never so many at one time.

Julie: I think it's that feeling of helplessness that stabbed me the hardest. I remember sitting in a chair giving blood, thinking, is there anything more I can do.

Cathy in AK said...

We lived in OR at the time. My mother, who works in NYC (I grew up on L.I.) was visiting. It was 7am and we were sleeping in after I'd returned the night before from bringing my husband to the airport in Portland. The phone rang. My sister, on L.I., didn't say hello. Just told me to turn on the TV. Mom and I sat there stunned with tears running down our faces.

Suzanne Brandyn Author said...

Oh my...I have to take a deep breath after reading the post and comments. I was in Australia and turned on the televison and cried when I watched in horror what had happened. Reading these stories really touched me. I can't express my deepest sympathies for those who suffered, who knew people that suffered. I hope it never happens again, anywhere in the world.

Maria Zannini said...

Cathy: I'm glad your mother was with you on that day. Thank God for lucky breaks.

Suzanne: The tragedy was absolutely unprecedented. Even Pearl Harbor was an attack on military forces not innocent civilians. said...

It has to be one of those moments when the world felt as though madness ruled. It is so hard to beleive that anyone would so deliberately harm another human being let alone 3,000 others plus the enduring legacy of their families grief. So sad.

Maria Zannini said...

Madeleine: Probably the thing I'll take away from it the most is how brave and generous people were when things were dire.

I suspect the bad guys hoped to derail morale. On the contrary, they made our resolve stronger.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your story and letting me share mine. It's so important to remember what happened.

As I got up for work this morning on Sept. 12th, 2011, I admit I was fearful to ride the train and to walk to my office (I work only a block from the Empire State Building), but I have to continue to do so every day. I can't let fear hold me back from living my life.

I hope fear holds none of you back either.