Sunday, September 11, 2011
As so many other Americans today, I am sitting here reflecting on where I was on the day life changed forever. Working on a military installation outside Washington DC, business was as usual that morning. I was opening a new office on the base and was alone in the small building. A civil engineer was walking through with me planning minor renovations required to open to our military family by 1 October 2001. You see it was to be a one stop shop for requesting child care for all children and youth eligible to use the facilities. We were all excited to open this office to serve so many families more efficiently.
The engineer left and I went into my office to start my business day making preparations for this new venture. Excitement was in the air and the anticipation in starting something new and so beneficial to so many was exhilarating. I only had a desk, a chair, a computer and a small radio in the office at that time. I opened my computer and clicked on my email to find an email from my daughter who lived in Pennsylvania. She very seldom emailed or called during the work day. Her message was short and very to the point. It read..."Mom, are you alright?"... I was so puzzled by her statement question I replied back..."Yes, WHY???" At that point all computer communications went dead. At first I did not think too much about because the system was a dial up and went dead often.
When I could not get it back up and running I went over to the radio to get some background music to keep the mind focused and to start a more minimal task of sorting lists and supplies. To my horror the radio did not have music but somber voices describing what was happening in New York City and the World Trade Center. I listened in shock and disbelief of this freighting accident happening. Then the newscaster soon interrupted that the second building was hit by another plane. Then the ominousness truth of the day began screaming into reality. Here, I was alone and dismayed but still so innocent of what was about to transpire just twenty plus miles away.
Shortly thereafter the same newscaster urgently announced that the Pentagon had been hit by yet another airplane. Empathy for all those in dire need in NYC was joined by fear for acquaintances, friends and family who were working at or close to the Pentagon. Many of the military families that our programs served worked at the Pentagon. My husband worked in Virginia and frequently had business to conduct there. Our son worked in and around Washington DC. I became frantic and immediately tried to contact my family by cell phone but all communication was down. At this point I no longer wanted to be alone. I needed to do something to help somewhere, what I could do was so unknown, but something had to be done.
The installation was shut down; no one was entering or leaving. The silence in the atmosphere was horrendous. That perfect beautiful late summer day was so different. I contacted my supervisor to let her know that I was leaving my office and going to help at our youth program. Once there I was with others who were desperately trying to reach loved ones and consoling parents as they were trying to find out where their children were. All the youngest children were safe and accounted for but the school age children were outside the base at their schools. Their buses were not allowed to enter the installation. They were transported back to the schools. The parents were having difficulty getting from their jobs to get their children. The children were only released to their parent. It was total chaos. We were prepared to face whatever needed to be done to help our military family. No matter what it was, we were preparing to do it. Gradually communication systems were restored and information was soon getting to us. I was able to finally reach my husband. He had spoken with our son and both were fine. Parents were calling to let us know that they found their children and all were safe. Then another shock, a plane crashed in Pennsylvania.
The following days were so sobering as all the facts of the day’s events became known. For those of us who could go back to work to what had not physically changed, had changed. I returned to my one man office that next day to continue getting it ready for our opening. The heightened security was profound. The little old building was next to an entrance gate. Reinforcements guarding the gate were phenomenal. A very large truck was stationed outside my office with its engine running 24/7. The drone of the noise was heart pounding. Sitting here 10 years later I can hear that drone and feel the vibrations within my body. But I knew that if necessary that person behind the wheel of that truck needed to help protect the installation he or she would do so without any questions asked. Even though we were vulnerable, I felt a sense of security.
Over time we would speak with others about where we were on the "Day Life Changed Forever". Our stories are intertwined forever of a theme of memories of lost loved ones, of heroes, of near escapes, of compassion, but most of all of a since of family. In the words of Todd Beamer of Flight 93, "Let's Roll!" We are united together forever as a family of millions.