Sometime shortly after 9am, I received a call from a friend telling me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in NYC. I was in total disbelief. At the time, my cousin's family, including their two small children, were living in Battery Park within sight of those Towers, in addition to all my other cherished Manhattan relatives uptown and I immediately started to panic about them.
The word started to spread amongst my colleagues, and many of us wanted to leave, but our leaders told us to stay put. Then came the news that a plane was heading for DC. Next report was that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Again, I was in disbelief. We were only a few miles from there and surely we would have heard the explosion. Regardless, that news was enough for me to take matters into my own hands. My thinking at the time was that if we were destined to die, I didn't want to die at my office amongst work colleagues, I wanted to die among friends and family. So I ignored my boss' request to stay, packed my personal belongings and left. My friend lived in an apartment nearby and hadn't left for work, so I decided to ride out the crazy chaos with him. As I was driving, the radio announcer started reporting another plane heading for DC. I was behind the wheel, crouching down, trying to look up and out my front windshield, to see if a plane was heading my way. (As I type this, my hands are shaking like a leaf at the memories.) My friend's apartment was near Alexandria Hospital and little did I know they were transporting all the Pentagon victims there. I tried and tried to get to his neighborhood, but all the streets were closed in the area, to allow the emergency vehicles faster access to the hospital. As the ambulances were flying by me, I realized I wouldn't be able to get anywhere near his neighborhood, so I parked my car on a random street, locked it up and started walking. It was a long and terrifying walk, but eventually I made it safely to his apartment. Then we switched on the news and saw the horror of what had happened. We were glued to the TV for hours.
I will never forget those images. I will never forget struggling to make a cell connection with my NYC relatives to ensure they were all OK. I will never forget the smoky smell as I stepped outside the next morning, the smell of our burning Pentagon. It was truly surreal. I will never forget the roar of the fighter jets circling our city night after night, month after month, waking me up repeatedly and re-instilling fear at every pass. I will never forget those thousands of precious lives lost and their loved ones who carry on. I will never forget.
Our country was changed in an instant, that beautiful September morning, and so was I. Our leaders have managed to avert another crisis of that magnitude on our shores, but there are so many countries on our planet that are facing these horrors daily. And we can never forget their pain, their fear and their desire to live a peaceful life. Let us never forget not just ourselves, but all of our fellow humans who deserve to live terror-free.
P.S. Please feel free to share your memories of that eventful day in the comments below. I'd love to hear them!