“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And NO ONE will keep that light from shining.” ~ President George W. Bush
The 15 year anniversary of 9/11 is known to many as one of the darkest days in U.S. history.
As I began writing something in memory of the 15 year anniversary of 9/11, I thought, ‘what do you say that hasn’t already been said?’ We’ve had 15 years to process this unbelievable attack on American soil and what that day means to us. This day means so many things to me. I know that is true for many of us. Each of us has a story that day. A story that will forever in time, stand still.
I’m not going to start off with the morning of September 11, 2001. I must tell of the earlier stories in 2001 so that I may better explain my thoughts and feelings leading up to and on the morning of 9/11.
So, I’m going to start with the morning of February 6, 2001. At 5 am, my home phone began ringing. My husband at the time worked in the ER at a local hospital here in Nashville, so I automatically assumed that it was the ER Department needing him to come in early that morning. As he quickly rolled over and looked at the phone he said to me, “Hey, it’s your Mom & Dad, you need to brace yourself.” I knew exactly what he meant. My Dad had a 15 year heart ailment, having suffered his most recent heart attack just 7 months earlier, so he assumed that we were about to be delivered the news that I feared for sometime. I sprang from my bed like a jack-in-the-box and immediately began pacing the floor. He answered the phone and confusingly said, “What? Shay? What happened?” Shay was my younger sister and best friend. Immediately my heart sunk as I continued to pace between the bedroom and the bathroom, occasionally sneaking a glimpse of him on the phone, as though he wouldn’t see me. After my father shared the news with him, he asked to speak with me. My entire body was trembling. I took hold of that phone and said, “Dad?” to which he replied, “Honey, I need for you to sit down.” He paused. “Shay was killed in a terrible car accident last night. We don’t know all of the specifics yet, we just know that she’s gone. I’m so sorry. I know how much you loved her. We all did.” I don’t remember the rest of that conversation nor do I recall speaking to my mother. But I remember the uncontrollable screaming. Screaming so loud that my 10 year old came rushing through the bedroom door in an absolute panic. I won’t get into the rest of the story but I will say that on that morning I literally felt the crushing of my heart. For the next several hours, I would gasp for several minutes before finally being able to catch my next breath. The life had been sucked out of me. I had suffered loss before but this was the first of an immediate family member. THIS was different.
I spent the next several weeks trying to pull myself together. That wouldn’t come for almost six years. And truth is, 15 years later and there are days where I still struggle. On the morning that I received the news about my little sister, I knew that not only would my life never be the same but I, my whole being, would never be the same. I would wake up each morning giving all I had to face the next day. It was difficult. I was consumed by the fact that she was gone. I was consumed with facts of how she was taken from us. I was consumed with worry over how my parents were going to survive this, telling many friends and family that her death was going to kill them.
I remember thinking how someone’s entire world could change in a minute, just one thing could stop it spinning. I did what I could but I wasn’t good at it. Each day was forced and the only thing that kept me waking each morning was my only 10 year old son at the time.
The next several weeks I did what I could to help my parents. Returning home a few times to help take care of things that I didn’t want my parents to have to deal with. They had just buried their youngest daughter beneath the surface of the earth. And that was enough. During that time, I spoke often to my parents and my brother. Making sure that everyone was okay. Praying that everyone was handling it much better than I had. I felt everyone, including my parents, were being exceptionally strong for me. I cried daily and lived through the pain of it silently for the most part but they knew the toll that it had taken on me.
On Friday evening, March 16, 2001, at about 8 p.m. my phone began to ring. The caller ID displayed a hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana. With no preconceived notions at all, I took the call. My mother was on the other of the line. In a very calm voice she said to me, “Your father suffered a stroke and we are at the hospital in New Orleans.” I questioned that since my family lived approximately 2 hours from there and there were several hospitals much closer to where they lived. I asked to speak with him but my mother went on to say that he was in ICU for observation and I would have to call him the next day. I learned that night that my dad had actually suffered a stroke the day before, just outside of his office. Mom rushed him to the small town local hospital where my brother met them at the entrance of the ER. After several scans and a series of testing, he was released after having been diagnosed with “vertigo”. They didn’t call me that day because I was still reeling over the death of my sister and they thought it best to spare me from a scare that turned out to be just vertigo. BUT, early the next morning, my father woke feeling just as bad as he had the day before. He asked my mother to drive him to a hospital in New Orleans. I spoke to him and my mom both several times in the days to follow but I was very concerned.
Six days later and exactly 6 weeks to the day that we buried my little sister, my father passed away about 5-10 minutes after hanging up the phone with me. The call that evening came from my brother. I will never forget his screams that night and his desperation in immediately asking to speak with my husband. I handed the phone to him, but not without first calling my brother “psycho”, and as he placed the phone between his ear and shoulder, with his arms crossed in a way that I considered to be odd, he slowly turned to look at me. The last thing that I remember was walking out the front door of my home and up the street. I didn’t know where I was going but I didn’t get far. I collapsed in the front yard of a neighbor just three doors down. Once I came to, and was hit with the reality of what had just happened that same feeling of my heart crushing quickly returned. I honestly didn’t think that I was going to survive this one. How could it be? I had convinced myself, that even though my father had been sick over the years, he was going to be fine. He was safe. We just buried Shay. There was no way possible that God was going to take half of my family away from me, or from any of us, in just six weeks. I once again won’t go into the rest of this story, but for the second time in 6 weeks I had the wind knocked out of my sails. So much so, that those sails would never sail again.
Over the next 6 months, the struggles that my mom, brother and I would endure were overwhelming at times. Our world shattered twice that year only weeks apart.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, just as with every night since hearing the news of Shay’s death, I had gotten very little sleep. It was a typical start to the day. I got my son to school, headed to the office, while trying to convince myself that I could get through the day. I arrived early. My boss was sitting in his office having his morning coffee. So, I joined him. Talking business, laughing over a few things that had happened over the weekend. He even asked how I was doing. I told him that I was struggling that morning. We spoke about it for a while because he knew that talking about it made me feel better. He happened to have the television on in his office that morning. Our conversation was abruptly disrupted as shots of the plane hitting the first World Trade Center were flashing across the screen. We sat there, completely stunned and totally unprepared for the report of another plane striking the 2nd tower just moments later.
Thoughts that morning started just as they did each day, of my Dad and sister. And of my family. The moment I saw the first tower had been hit, my thoughts immediately turned to those that had just lost their lives. Both in that plane and in that building. I began thinking about the families and the terrible news they would be given that day. All things that I had just recently gone through. The feeling of my heart crushing returned once again. Minutes later, I was taken back by now it was all of these people in 2 planes and 2 buildings! I was in complete shock as was the rest of the country watching the story unfold.
By this time, several people had crowded into the office where we sat, as new spread quickly across the office building. After the 2nd plane struck, it was quickly announced that it was no coincidence and it was believed to be a terrorist attack. I was in disbelief. I thought, “not on American soil.” I never even questioned the possibility of that as I had always felt safe in this country and knew us to be well protected. We had the CIA, Homeland Security, and a military that was force to be reckoned with. Not anyone could get to us. And certainly not cause harm and devastation of this magnitude. As the reports continued rolling in and the coverage of the towers, with smoke rising from them, was now on every channel, my concerns grew. I was inwardly screaming, “OMG the people in those planes and on the floors of the building in which they slammed into! OMG the families of those individuals! OMG New York! OMG Terrorist?!?!!?” And then, with a vision that still haunts me to this day, the first tower came crashing down. And then the second. We then began hearing reports of a strike on the Pentagon, and another US Flight 93 crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. And once again, I’ll never forget the screams of the people or the gasps taken by the news anchors reporting the events of that morning. I’ll never forget the pandemonium that ensued that day in that beloved city. I felt like I was reliving the same pain, and going through the same motions of Feb 6th and March 21st. I couldn’t shake the loss. I couldn’t shake the feeling of knowing what all of those people would soon be facing.
I began pacing, just as I did the morning I got the call about my little sister. I’d sit down for a moment to watch more of the footage. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was lost and I was scared. I was trying to process that thousands, and no one knew for sure at the time but one could assume, had just been killed on American soil.
The tears falling down my face, with the strike each key, are as big as the tears I shed that day. Just as I had on Feb 6th and March 21st. I watched for a few minutes longer but I had to leave the office. I needed to get to my son. I needed to wrap my arms around him and know that he was safe. I needed him to know that I was safe. I needed to call the hospital and make sure that my husband was safe. I needed to call home and make sure that my mom, brother and his family were all okay. I needed to call other family members and friends. I just needed to know that everyone was okay. I wasn’t okay, I hadn’t been for 6 months. I was safe but I wasn’t okay. And now thousands in New York City weren’t okay either, many more families weren’t okay…an entire nation was no longer okay.
I picked my son up from school and rushed home, where I would spend the next several days glued to the television. There were a lot of things that day, and over the course of the next several days, that I wish I could have just unseen. But I couldn’t. Life as this entire nation knew it was over, and America would never be the same. And it wasn’t.
Years later I went to work for a company in Weehawken, NJ which is just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. To hear those colleagues of mine share their stories of that day, most of whom watched both towers fall from the windows of their offices, was heart wrenching. My boss who was scheduled to return the following day but was delayed, due to all airports being shut down because of the attacks and planes being hijacked to carry out those attacks, explained his feelings on the flight into the city a few mornings later. He had flown in and out of that city for decades, each time admiring the incredible skyline that NYC has to offer. This time, as the plane made its final descend, he stared out of window of the plane, weeping uncontrollably at the view of where the twin towers that once stood so tall, no longer stood at all, and the entire landscape and skyline of the city was forever changed with billowing smoke still covering much of the city. I don’t think that I spoke with one person on any of my trips to New York where someone wasn’t directly affected by the attacks and losses that day. The stories of unity and heroic acts of kindness and humanity sent chills down my spine. While New York took a beating that morning, I think that it’s safe to say that every single American shared in their pain. I read somewhere that someone said on THAT morning, an entire nation became a neighborhood and all Americans became New Yorkers. And that is exactly what happened.
As I cried a river today watching the memorials on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I realized that today was NO different than the anniversary of 9/11 in years 01’-15’. I shared my own tragic stories to set the stage on where I was mentally when tragedy struck this country. I was so broken. I am still broken. Today, I cry in memory of a broken nation. I cry in memory of the loss of thousands of Americans. I cry for their families and friends, who today, struggle more than any of us. I cry for all of the first responders who lost their lives trying to save others. I cry for all of the fallen police officers and firemen. Today, I cry for children who lost parents on that day. Some on whom weren’t even born at the time. Those children never even had the opportunity to meet their fathers. I cry for those lost in battles fought in distant lands. All heroes. Paying for the price of freedom with a life. I cry over the impact that it has had on this country and the citizens of this country. I cry over the tolerance of the actions bestowed upon this nation that day which has been shoved down our throats. And yes, I cry over my Dad and my sister. While not anyone knows what the future holds, 2001 to date, was the absolute worst year of my entire life. My losses will always be connected to those of 9/11. It was the year that God did indeed give me more than I could handle.
What 9/11 means to me…
It was 1 of 4 of the most devastating events in my life to hit me, and in only 7 months. I started the grieving process all over again that day. It was the 3rd time that my world changed in a minute. Because one thing stopped its spinning. It is a moment that I’ll never forget where I was, or what I was doing for as long as I live. I often think of 9/11 and compare it to that of the days where an entire nation was affected, such as the assassination of JFK, or Pearl Harbor. For the first time in my life, I felt like I knew what others were feeling during those times. Times that I’ve only read about in history or through documentaries and cinema.
9/11 was a loss of epic proportions. A magnitude so big that it took me years to wrap my head around it. The lives….clearly the biggest loss.
9/11 was a loss in sense of security. I’m not sure that I will ever fully regain that.
9/11 was a loss of freedom. Americans lost many liberties that day. More than anyone is willing to admit. We also suffered a massive economic loss, far too much to mention.
9/11 was a moment where a nation rallied together, united over a national tragedy. A day where more respect was shown to each other, to this country and to all, to our flag,
9/11 Is a day that my 10 year will have memories of but wasn’t quite old enough to understand the scope of what had just happened and how it would change the country forever. It wasn’t until I saw the 2nd plane hit and the towers crumbled that the gravity of the situation really hit me. It’s a day that I will spend the rest of my life making sure that my little one, not born for another 3 years after the attacks, has a full understanding of what happened that day, why it happened that, what was lost, and the importance of never forgetting 9/11.
9/11 is a day that caused me to look at our neighboring countries, my fellow citizens, every immigrant that I encountered, and even my own government very differently.
9/11 is a day that I realized just how deep my patriotism, for this country, ran. It was a day that I began flying that flag higher and prouder than ever before. It was a day that I mourned the losses of so many, and a day that on each anniversary I will continue to mourn.
9/11 to me is a day of reckoning. It’s a reminder of why we should love one another, why we should stand in honor of the flag and the national anthem, why we should respect each other, especially our men and women in uniform…Police, Fireman and our military.
9/11 was proof that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. It was also proof that we as citizens, and a nation, were no longer considered “untouchables”.
I look at the world differently because of 9/11/01. It casts a shadow on the cultural consciousness of Americans. How could it not? I still struggle to make sense of such a senseless act, and fifteen years hasn’t lightened the burden that every single American felt on that day. The shockwaves across this country were tremendous. We still experience shockwaves with each passing anniversary, as we are reminded by the many images of that horrific day. But no one will forget. Not ever.
God Bless you NYC. God Bless the victims and their families, and all of the heroes of 9/11. God Bless America and all of those who have fought for her and for our freedoms, whom have served with honor and died with dignity, and for those who continue this fight.
May you all find peace in knowing that 9/11 will NEVER be forgotten!
Where were you when the world stopped turning? I would love to hear your stories. How were you affected and what impact did 9/11 make on you?
#remember911 #godblessamerica #redwhiteandblue