Ten Years

As humans, we tend to place great value on numbers. A ten year wedding anniversary is celebrated with gifts and parties. A tenth birthday is cause for celebration as a child hits their “two-digit” age. Today is the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It is not a time to celebrate; looking at the commemoration I see that this day is still raw with so many people. It seems too soon to look at it objectively; there are still so many emotions involved. Of course, we’ve been worn down with war and anti-terror efforts since that time. Since the color system was adopted for risk of terrorist attack, I can’t remember a time that it hasn’t been at least orange in the last ten years.

Even if you were nowhere near the East Coast at the time, everyone has their story of where they were and what was happening, including me.

I was living on the West Coast working at a hospital in the Quality department. I overslept a little that morning; I was battling my alarm clock when there was a knock on my door. I’ve never listened to the radio or watched the TV in the morning; it slows me down, so I had no idea what was going on in the world. My neighbor was at the door, wearing a blue terry bathrobe. I thought it was kind of funny, since I’d never seen him in the morning before he had dressed and groomed. I was in my bathrobe, too, with crazy hair, so I was a little chagrined, and tried to cover it up with a cheery smile and a good morning. He stammered out “Have you…did you…are you just awake?” I said yes, that I had just gotten out of bed. He said “Turn on the TV.” That was all he said. And he left.

I turned on the TV to the Today show, and this is what I saw:

It knocked me off my feet. I sat and watched the coverage with my mouth open, amazed. How could this be happening? I eventually felt the compulsion to go to work, and arrived about a half an hour late. Everyone in my department showed up, because we worked for a hospital. There were a lot of questions about whether we would be needed. If there was an attack on the West Coast, we would have to be ready for casualties. The blood drive started immediately; I felt so frustrated that I couldn’t contribute. Due to the fact that I lived in England for three years while they had reported cases of BSE (AKA “Mad Cow Disease”), Red Cross rules will not allow me to donate blood. I think everyone else in my department did, though.

My best work friend was even later in to work than I was. She had to stop and buy a portable television to watch at work. I think we all found ourselves checking in at her desk or the conference room where a television had been set up. The news of the Pentagon attack came in, and the crashed United 93 flight. Each report made me feel less safe. Our usual work was abandoned; the only meetings we had were preparatory meetings about what we would do with a West Coast attack, because we were prepared for all kinds of emergencies, but had no specific plans for terrorist attack. At noon, the hospital chaplain had a prayer session for anyone who wanted to attend. I went, and saw so many people I worked with who I didn’t even know were Christians. I remember crying through that entire hour.

My ex-boyfriend was living in Long Island at the time, so I was pretty sure that he was nowhere near the towers, but I was nervous all day. I didn’t even try calling him, because I had heard how difficult it was to get through to New York. He called that evening, shaken, as he had been in the Trade Center the night before.

Much later, I found out that I knew one of the Navy chaplains who had been in the Pentagon during the attack. He had been involved in helping the wounded evacuate the building. I knew this chaplain because his daughter had been one of my very good friends in college, and she had been brutally murdered in DC just three years before. He definitely has seen the worst of humanity, but has gone on to write about and speak extensively on forgiveness.

And that night, I woke up in the middle of the night, frightened. I crept out to the living room, and turned on the TV to make sure the world was still there.

I hope and pray that I will never need to do that again.

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