Another Sept. 11 has come and gone, but the nation’s, and most of the world’s, shock and grief live on. Here’s a real-time look at what 9/11 felt like to me then and now.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001: Driving to work, running late. Hearing the news reports breaking into the oldies rock radio station. Listening — breathless, heart pounding — as the description changes from a small plane hitting the Twin Towers to what’s really happening. Speeding up, driving too fast, dodging other dazed motorists. Parking my car frantically at the nearest entrance. Running up the stairs to my office and my coworkers. Scanning the shocked faces, hearing people on the telephone. Calling my own family. Decamping with my colleagues to the conference room. Gathering around the only television in the building. Exchanging sounds of bewilderment. Falling silent, attempting to absorb the events. Supporting those who go home to their families. Learning of AA Flight 77. Wallowing in disbelief. Working with HR to order pizza, lots of pizza, for the hundreds of employees in our organization. Learning of UA Flight 93. Staring, glazed over, at the television, disregarding my responsibilities. Driving home. Running to my neighbor’s door, too shocked, too numb, to cry.
Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001: Watching in horror, again and again. Learning the extent, the significance. Trying to reach friends, or friends of friends, or family of friends on the East Coast. Imagining what it looked like to be there, what it smelled like, sounded like, felt like. Feeling fear, anger, confusion. Sleepwalking, in the daytime.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001: Accepting the eerie silence in the skies. Cringing when only the military jets swoop overhead. Reading, watching, listening to the news. Scrutinizing the lists of the victims, the rescuers, the dead, the missing. Holding family close.
Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2002: Finishing the last leg of a cycling trip through the Loire Valley. Being welcomed for the previous two weeks in French homes and chateaus. Accepting warm hospitality. Receiving a map and directions — in French — to our chambre d’hôte when we were lost. Appreciating the gratitude of the people in France for American forces during World War II.
Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002: Arriving by train in Paris. Dragging my luggage and cycling gear down the sidewalks from the station. Pausing at newsstands where New York is burning on all the front pages. Buying papers and magazines printed in French to take home. Taking photos of smoking buildings on posters in the shops. Stepping in to Notre Dame at noon. Seeing the signs in French: Nous nous souvenons et nous prions! Messes pour les victimes des attentats et pour la paix! Reading the signs in English: Special services in memory of 9/11/2001 – we pray for peace. Stopping at the banks of candles flickering in the shadows. Seeing it propped behind the warm glow against the cold stone blocks of the cathedral walls. Recognizing the red, white, blue. Photographing the miniature American flag stapled to a slim stick. Praying for peace.
Sept. 11, 2013: Imagining what it looked like to be there, what it smelled like, sounded like, felt like. Feeling fear, anger, confusion, and profound sadness. Displaying miniature American flags stapled to a stick in flowerpots on my porch. Holding family close. Searching for a map and directions — in any language. Praying for peace.
Andrea Doray is an author who serves on the board of directors for the international organization Writing for Peace. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.