Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reflecting After Fifteen Years

Originally written in 2014, updated in 2016.

Fifteen years ago, I was working in a cubby-hole office at a DC firm when a colleague came in and said, "Something's happened in New York."

We could look out one window and see smoke from the Pentagon crash site, though that lasted relatively briefly. Since we were about four blocks from the White House, many of us wondered if more planes were coming and whether they would strike near us. That fear was allayed relatively soon, as all flights were required to land at their nearest airport.

Was it safer to stay at work or leave? My sister insisted I not take the Metro, so my choice was made for the time being.  My car was about eight miles away in a suburban Metro parking lot. A car would have been useless for the first couple of hours, as streets visible from our eighth-floor office window were their own parking lots.

About fifteen of us watched the office television. I was the only one who cried as the towers came down. I never understood that.

It was impossible to get on the Internet, so there was no way to view news there and we could not send or receive emails from family. I volunteered to staff the phones so the support staff could leave, but I didn't know how to transfer calls. When a call came in for someone still in the suite, I used the PA to tell them. That was eerie. The grandmother of one staffer kept calling, and I kept repeating that her granddaughter left safely ages ago.

The rumors stick with me. There was a bomb in a car on Capitol Hill and another at the State Department. The latter was 'verified' information. When I looked in the paper the next day, there was a one-sentence reference to the State Department one having been untrue. No others were mentioned specifically. I suppose that was the one most-often stated as true.

The mental picture I retain most vividly is that of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld helping carry wounded at the Pentagon. Perhaps it's because I was close, perhaps because he will (hopefully) be the only Defense Department secretary to have to do that. I see the expression on his face as clearly as if he were standing in front of me.

I did eventually get to my sister's house in Kensington. A colleague who lived a few miles from her took me there. My sister had earlier rushed to her daughter's middle school. It was a short distance from the Navy Medical Center, a tall building amid short ones that she thought could be an easy target for another plane.

My sister drove me to my car, and I went to visit my two brothers and their families that evening. Our third brother was in New Jersey. He was stuck in traffic on a parkway not far from the Twin Towers, and saw the smoke for much of the day.

On September twelfth I went to the scheduled meeting of a Social Equity Panel. We briefly discussed canceling it, but decided it would be letting the terrorists win, somehow.

It was Saturday before I drove to an area near the Pentagon. I took a single carnation and drove along the perimeter at the back of of Arlington National Cemetery. Eventually I reached a patch of lawn where people had left flowers and other items.

The photo is of a sign on the cemetery fence. It reads, "Dear, Police, Firefighters, and the Red Cross. Thank you for helping the people at the Pentagon. You are great people for saving others. We know that your job is hard and dangerous. Thank you for protecting us." The poster is signed by 2nd graders at Drew Model School in Arlington.

I left my carnation beneath it.

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