I posted this blog last year as a tribute to all the people who did not get that chance to say one last good-bye to their loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Center was attacked. The emotion of that day prevented me from posting my blog on time and it never hit the Patch until Sept. 14.
So, I thought I would repost it this year, hopefully on time to reach those who are looking for shared experienes on this anniversary of that tragic day. I also found the photos that were taken during my visit to the World Trade Center just a few months before it was leveled by the terrorist. Here is how I remember it ...
Emotions Paint Strong Pictures in Our Memories
On Sept. 11, 2001, my husband and I were renting an apartment in North Decatur. I was the Marketing Research Manager at CNN and was getting ready for work that morning when we turned on the television and saw what was happening. I remember my husband saying, “Come here, quick! You have to see this! There is a plane flying around the World Trade Center in New York and it looks like it is going to hit it!“
I was walking into the living room to see what he was talking about and no sooner than he had said those words, it actually happened. We were actually watching live as the first plane hit the first tower of the World Trade Center. A lot of thoughts came rushing to my head at the same time. When we watched it live, we thought it must have been a small airplane. In fact, my first thought was that I hoped the pilot was okay. I had no idea that someone would do something like this on purpose.
There were no fears of terrorism or attacks in my world at that time and I worked for the world's news leader, so that is saying quite a lot about the feeling of safety and security we all had at that time. We watched and listened and expected to hear about a small plane that may have been off course. We talked about other crashes we knew about that we thought might be similar to this one. But, as the events unfolded, we realized that the plane was not just “off course.“ It was flying in restricted air space. That sounded odd, but not alarming. Just strange.
Then reports started coming in that it was a commercial airline and it had been full of passengers. The severity of this event was slowly starting to register. We just sat there, glued to the television. It was starting to be a very strange day.
It was hard to believe that I had just recently returned from a research conference in Manhattan just six months ago. My Mom had even joined me when my conference was over and we spent a couple days shopping and sightseeing. I have photos (see photos) of the two of us at the famous “Windows on the World” restaurant which was at the very top floor of the Trade Center. I remembered what a great time we had that night and all the wonderful people we met. The servers, bartenders, security guards, hostesses… they had all been so nice. We had a great time. And, now, I wondered if any of the people I had met would have been at work that early. I prayed they were all still at home, just like me, still getting ready for work. As it turned out, many of them were, in fact, already there. They were in the middle of the terror, trapped on the very top floor.
Suddenly, I snapped back to reality ...I should not be sitting around at home watching this stuff on CNN!! What was I thinking?? I was supposed to BE at CNN! The office must be going crazy trying to report everything that had just happened. I rushed out the door and did not even think to kiss my husband good-bye. What a terrible decision that was and one I will never make again. I later realized how many other people also forgot to kiss their loved ones good-bye that morning. But they would never have that chance to make things right. They would never return home. They missed their only chance for a last good-bye.
Breaking news was not unusual for CNN. It is what we did better than any other news network because of the sheer number of affiliate stations we had across the country and the world. But, this was not a typical breaking news event. I had no idea what CNN would be like that day. As I raced to work, I noticed that most of the other traffic was going the other way. It didn’t dawn on me that I could be heading toward danger while everyone else was driving away from it. The events that were still unfolding were not something that you could easily grasp as reality. I had not considered the possibility that there could be more planes, more crashes or that the towers could actually fall. At that point I don't think anyone realized something of this magnitude was possible on U.S. soil.
When I arrived at CNN Center, I learned something that had not even entered my mind. What had happened was not only very real, it was no accident. I did not know until that day that a person can actually feel different levels of shock, but that is exactly what we were all experiencing. The world was learning what we were learning at CNN and we were all living the aftershock together.
Security was everywhere and the entire news room was on “lock down.” The staff that was inside was busy and no one unauthorized was allowed to go in. It did not appear like anyone would be coming out any time soon either. These people are true professionals and breaking news is what they do best. It was a very proud feeling to be a part of such a professional organization that was so prepared to do their jobs. The nation was watching and the media was there to get the story out as quickly as possible, dispel rumors and provide emergency instructions. And they were doing an excellent job amid the utter chaos.
When I finally made it upstairs to the 12th floor where my department was located, it was the complete opposite of where I had just left. There was hardly anyone around. A friend from down the hall came into my office and told me a second plane had hit the second tower.
I turned on the television in my office and several of us gathered around to watch. That is when we all heard the name Osama Bin Laden for the first time. We learned that our country was currently under an active attack of terrorism. And we started to get scared.
The anchor on the air was pointing at a large map that was lit from behind to show every U.S. airplane that was currently in the air. The planes were being reached by radio and were told to land at the nearest major airport. As the planes landed, the light on the map would turn off and very quickly we could all see exactly which places were not landing as they had been ordered to do. We could see the planes that might have terrorists on board. Indeed, another plane was still in the air and headed toward Washington D.C.
No city, no mode of transportation, no person was safe. We did not know what was going to happen next and it was difficult to determine if anyone was in charge. Suddenly, I did not feel like standing next to my floor to ceiling windows. It did not feel safe. I wanted to do something. To help. To work. But what?
My friend left to find out what we should be doing. While she was gone, we heard about the attack on Washington. That’s when the people who had been hanging around in the hallway started grabbing their things and heading out. My friend returned from her office and was yelling, “Leave! Everyone can leave! They told us to go home! Take the stairs!” She sounded like she was starting to get upset and that got the rest of us worried, too.
What were we even doing here?
On my TV, they had started rolling names of cities in a banner across the bottom of the screen. These were other potential targets. And, there it was: Atlanta.
Everyone started to speculate about whether CNN would be a target. We were actually trying to remember if terrorists are the ones who like the media or are they the ones who think we are not portraying them correctly? Regardless, we knew they hated Americans and that was enough to make us all start feeling a big claustrophobic.
Just then, an announcement came over a loud speaker in the hallway telling us in a very monotone sort of voice “all non-essential personnel are to evacuate the building immediately.” It was the first and only time in my professional career that someone could call me “non-essential” and I would be happy about it.
Just as quickly as I had arrived, I was now very anxious to leave. Our “Fire Marshall” was probably the first one to the stairs. Everyone else had their things and were right behind her. I told them to go ahead because I was just going to call my husband to let him know I was okay. After about five or ten minutes of trying to get a dial tone on either my office phone or my cell phone, I realized that I was not going to get any calls out.
Being all alone on that huge floor of the office building felt really eerie. I looked out my window toward the World Congress Center and the Omni Hotel. I could see a little bit of Centennial Olympic Park, the site of a terrorist attack during the 1996 Winter Olympics. At that moment, I felt a strange connection with the victims who were still trapped in their office buildings in New York. A feeling of fear and bewilderment swept over me as I realized I needed to get out of there. What was I doing? Why was I just standing there looking out the window?
I took the stairs that day
I took the stairs as we had been instructed. And, the entire time I was thinking about those poor people in New York who were climbing down flight after flight of stairs the same way I was at that very moment. I felt like I was doing the same thing, step for step, as someone else. I made it out safely and still had false hope that the people I had met from the top floor would be exiting the stairwell at that time, too.
I made it to my car and drove home as quickly as I could. This time the streets in downtown Atlanta were almost completely vacant. When I got back to the apartment, I rushed in and my husband and I just held each other. He had heard the reports about Atlanta being a possible target and had been unable to reach me at work or on my cell phone. There were no words to describe the way we felt at that moment. I don’t know if anyone can ever explain the bizarre combination of shock, dismay, fear, anger and sadness that we all experienced.
We watched the images of the towers falling which were played over and over again on TV for the next several days. We saw the people jumping out of windows and those running down the streets. Physically, we were safe, but mentally, our perception of the world was changed from that day forward. We lost our sense of national security. In a way, it felt like we lost our innocence that I doubt we will ever recover. It was painfully heartbreaking to see all those people wandering the streets in the aftermath holding up photos and searching for their loved ones amid all the rubble.
After Sept. 11, 2001, my husband and I took a hard look at the priorities in our lives. We got serious about saving money, buying a home and starting a family. We realized that if we had been in those same shoes, or if the terrorists had attacked Atlanta, we could quite possibly be facing a future not only without each other, but without a child either. Children give us all hope for the future and we realized that was something that was missing in our lives. We grew up that day. The nation grew up, too.
We bought our house in Tucker before the year ended and settled down. A few years later, our daughter was born on a rainy September 1, in the afternoon. She turned six this year and knows nothing about the events of September 11. But, she does know words like, "war," "explosion," and "military." These are not things I have taught her. These are just words that are so common today that they are able to find their way into the vocabulary of our children. We try to protect her from some of the harsh realities in life, but we also want her to be strong. We are far too aware that nothing in life is guaranteed.
So here we are
We have all grown and changed and life has gone forward since the day that the towers came down. We saw the best and worst of mankind that day. And, we likely all took a hard look at ourselves as well. And, when events like today arise we should take time out to pay our own personal tributes to the victims and resolve ourselves to remember why we fight to keep our nation and our ideals in tact.
While I am no longer at CNN, I am proud of the time I spent working there and those friends who were with me that day will always be special to me because we shared an event that I hope my daughter will never have to comprehend. So, here we are, Sept. 11, once again.
I hope we are all able to also take time to be thankful for what we have and mindful of where we are headed. And, if given the opportunity, I hope we will always remember to get that kiss good-bye.