September 11, 2001. It was a day we all will never forget. I was working at a law firm in downtown DC. At 9:05 AM, I had just stepped off the elevator to see everyone in our firm standing in the glass-enclosed conference room watching the television with horrified looks on their faces. The second plane had just hit the South Tower of the WTC. The first Tower was still burning. Several attorneys and staff members were originally from New York City, and one of them began uncontrollably sobbing. At 9:37 AM, the news switched over to the Pentagon where another plane had just hit, and there were fears another plane was heading for the Capital. My brother-in-law worked in the Pentagon, but of course, the phones were not working so I could not get ahold of my sister until late that evening. She says her husband still will not speak about what exactly he saw that day, but he although he was not physically hurt, he did assist with the attempted rescue of the victims. At 9:59 AM, we watched the South Tower collapse in complete disbelief. More weeping. At 10:03 AM we heard the reports that United Flight 93, the second plane which was headed toward the Capital, had crashed in Shanksville, PA. Subsequently, we watched the surreal collapse of the WTC North Tower at 10:28 AM. By that time, we were almost numb because we seemed to perceive that collapse was inevitable.
Washington, DC was in the ineffectual process of being evacuated. There is no way to quickly and efficiently evacuate a major metropolitan city whose “rush hour” normally lasts for a total of 3 ½ hours. The streets were completely gridlocked with traffic and pedestrians who were trying to walk out of the city because the Metro subway system was completely overloaded and paralyzed. Several of us from our firm decided to stay inside our building instead of braving the chaos outside, particularly due to the reported threat of another plane strike heading toward the Capital, which we had no way of knowing was true or not. By about 2 PM, we were starving, so we looked outside our building to see that the streets had finally cleared. Two of us walked outside. The eerie silence of a completely empty city was something I will never forget. The silence and emptiness of the normally bustling downtown streets was as oppressive as the threat of a major catastrophe possibly headed our way. We walked around to see if we could find if any of the neighborhood restaurants were still open. We found one tiny hole in the wall bar that was still open, with a few silent patrons like us sitting and watching the events unfold on the television over the bar. We were able to get a pizza and take it back to our little cohort of coworkers holed up in our building. After we ate, the senior partner at our firm told us we were welcome to stay in the building as long as we wanted to, but I was ready to try to strike out for home. The phones were still not working, so I had not yet had any contact with my husband or family. Fortunately, the Metro was running by that time, practically empty. So I took the silent, sad train back to my car in the suburbs outside the city, and drove on practically empty freeways the rest of the way home. Such a strange, terrible, awful day.
I pray for all of the victims, their families, the firefighters and rescue workers who gave their lives and who are still dealing with the after-effects of that awful tragedy, including physical ailments from the toxic, carcinogenic environment at Ground Zero and at the Pentagon. I also pray for peace and understanding and a willingness to coexist among peoples of different faiths and beliefs and non-beliefs all around the world. I pray that we will never have to face anything like that terrible day again, and that if we do, we will be able to react to such an event with wisdom and understanding. Amen.
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