10 years ago today, everything changed.
Innocence lost. Hearts broken. Confusion. Disbelief. Shock. Why? How? Whaaaat?
Tuesday, September 11, 2001. A day I’ll never forget.
I was doing my usual that morning. Getting ready for work in my New York City apartment on West 57th Street. The Today Show played in the background. I was running a bit late for my account executive job at a top public relations firm in Midtown. I took a bit longer to pick out my outfit as my friend James was hosting his swanky birthday party that evening. I chose my tan leather skirt and heels. Nice.
Now it was about 8:45 a.m. and I knew I had to get out the door soon to get to the subway for my 30-minute commute. But then Matt Lauer and Katie Couric interrupted the typical coverage with news about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.
“Hmm … odd,” I thought. The news reports were still preliminary and I thought it must have been some small commuter plane that crashed. Maybe the pilot had a heart attack and lost control? I wasn’t sure. I just knew I had to get to work. I was supposed to be there at 9 a.m., but today I’d be cruising in closer to 9:20 a.m. Oops.
My roommates had already left for the day. Now it was my turn. So off I went. No one on the street seemed to know what was going on with plane crash. All seemed normal. Into the 1/9 subway I went downtown.
Again, all seemed typical on the train. People kept to themselves. Read their papers. Slept. Commuted. It was only when I transferred to the 7 train at Times Square that I knew I wasn’t the only one who had heard the news. People were sharing what they knew. The MTA conductor came on the speaker and announced that subway service was affected by the plane crash at the World Trade Center. We all looked at each other with concern. I got out at Grand Central Station and walked to my job on East 42nd Street.
As soon as I walked through the glass doors of my office, I knew my world had changed forever. During my underground commute, a second plane had hit the other tower of the World Trade Center. I saw this news on the many TV’s that filled our beautiful office lobby. Now I realized this was no accident. This was intentional. This was the ugly face of terrorism.
I was 24 years old, far from my home in Florida, living for the past two years in my new home of Manhattan. My innocence had died eight years prior when my 12-year-old sister died of cancer. Now I felt a new wound forming. Bigger, more destructive and senseless.
I moved from the lobby to my desk. On my computer I saw an Instant Message from my best friend Taryn who was living in Atlanta. “Are you okay? The Pentagon has been hit.” It felt like Armageddon, like my whole world was crashing down around me. What was happening?
One minute I’m at the top of my game, moving up the ladder at a top NYC public relations firm, traveling on business, living it up at parties, clubs and fancy restaurants. The next, the world as we know it is OVER.
An emergency staff meeting was called by management and we were told the news of what was happening and given instructions for where to go from here. I broke into tears. One of my colleagues asked if I knew someone in the Towers. Yes, I did. But I wasn’t crying for him (I had a feeling he was safe since he was on a lower floor). I was crying because I knew everything had changed and there was no going back.
The rest of that fateful day, I banded together with friends to support each other and try to wrap our heads around what had happened (you can’t). It all felt so different. Our relationships, our work, ourselves, our city, our world.
In the days ahead, I volunteered, cried, got pissed, got lost, wondered what it all meant, and tried to move forward.
Were we allowed to feel good again, be happy, smile, laugh? Was there a timeline for getting back to some semblance of “normal?” What rules were in effect now? It seemed like we were looking to everyone else for answers, clues, direction.
While at a Black Crowes concert a few weeks later, I remember the entire crowd taking a collective sigh of relief as the lead singer Chris Robinson gave us the permission we were hungry for when he said: “It’s okay to feel good again.”
But going back to work was tough. Staying busy had always been my crutch, my way to avoid other things that were happening in my life. But now, I often would sit at my desk and wonder how could I sit there when real life was happening outside, somewhere else. How could I give so much of my time to performing work that didn’t fill my soul? I had my dream job, but was grappling with the realization that it simply wasn’t for me.
9/11 was a wake-up call. Like my sister’s death years prior, another stark reminder to make everyday count. Because life is the ultimate gift.
I am forever humbled and grateful for the triumph that rose from tragedy on that fateful Tuesday, a day when we all took a pause to remember what truly matters.
I find it interesting that ever since my oldest child was born close to three years ago, I’ve taken Tuesdays “off.” I didn’t know why I chose Tuesday at the time. It just felt right and I’ve protected it fervently even when competing interests (work, opportunities, money!) come in trying to steal my attention away from this family time. No, thanks. Perhaps it’s my way of honoring those who gave their lives on 9/11/01 so I can live my precious life to the best of my ability. Yes, I will make those departed souls proud. Most importantly, I will honor myself, my truth, my path, essential parts of me I’ve discovered since that fateful day.
And I’ll never forget.
My message for you today: Live well, my friend. Live free. You get one go-round. Make it count. What are you waiting for?