I don’t often take this blog to serious places, but it is difficult to ignore September 11 as anything other than a serious date. On 9/11/01, I was at a conference in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. The day was beautiful. Bright blue skies beckoned outside of our conference room, and a group of us planned to head into D.C. that afternoon. It was my first trip to the area, and I couldn’t wait to take in all of the sights in our nation’s Capitol.
Our group was engaged in a lively discussion, but then, in the middle of the conference session, cell phones began buzzing. We laughed at first. It seemed amusing that we’d all get calls at the same time. Then one of the presenters stepped out to take her call. When she returned to the room her face was devoid of color, and she said we were adjourning to the lobby of the hotel.
There, we gathered around a television and watched footage of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center buildings. A coworker began sobbing. Her parents had a business next to the building and she excused herself to try to call them. We stayed focused on the screen and watched in disbelief as yet another plane crashed into the side of the second building. The dawning comprehension that this was not an accident registered immediately. Some cried. Some cursed. Some prayed.
My room was on the first floor, just around the corner from the lobby. I felt the urgent need to be alone, so I went to my room and got down on my knees. I prayed for the families of all those on board the planes. I prayed for those inside the buildings. Then I prayed fervently for those who had perpetrated this unimaginable act to be forgiven.
When I emerged from my room I began hearing all sorts of stories: the Pentagon had been hit, the White House was under attack, another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. I wasn’t sure what was real and what was rumor. I tried to call my husband who was en route to Houston that day. When I finally got through he was frantic. He knew how close my hotel was to the Pentagon–15 minutes by Metro.
He’d had an intense day. Studly and eight of his coworkers were traveling in a white rental van from Kansas to Houston. They’d planned on playing a few rounds of golf on their trip. When they received a call from their company’s vice president to find a spot to convene a conference call, they found a bank in a small Texas town. The bank had locked its doors and required Studly and his coworkers to present picture i.d.s before admitting them to the building. Their Houston meeting was cancelled, so they turned the van around and headed to their respective homes.
I’d never wanted to be home as much as I did that day, but all flights were cancelled. Colleagues began trying to rent cars, but those were hard to come by. One of my closest friends urged me to stay put. The hotel said we could stay at no expense until we could arrange for travel and our company promised to take care of us until we could find a way home. So for three days we stayed in the hotel, checking flights and watching the news. On Friday morning we headed to Dulles, hoping that our flights would be cleared.
I’d never seen lines that long at an airport–around the terminal and out the door. People were beginning to feel a sense of desperation. First we were told our flight to Dallas was cancelled. I was ready to give up and head back to Tyson’s Corner, but again my friend urged me to stay put. That advice paid off when a gentleman came through our line to gather those of us ticketed for the Dallas flight.
We boarded the plane and then sat on the tarmac for two hours. No one spoke. The silence was more unnerving than anything I’d experienced in the previous three days. Finally, we were cleared for takeoff–the first plane to depart Dulles after 9/11.
When we landed safely at DFW a palpable feeling of relief surged through the cabin. One of the flight attendants broke into tears. I cried with her. I had to catch another flight to Amarillo, TX. The flight attendants gave us instructions on fighting off attackers. Use anything you have they told us. Purses, pillows, wallets. The whole experience was surreal.
When I made it to Amarillo and to my car I sat and cried in the parking lot for a long time. I still had a four hour drive in front of me, and I remember very little of it. When I pulled into my driveway in a Dodge City, Kansas, Studly came out to hold me. Home never felt so good.
Peace, Please People!