Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001

Ten years ago today Our Nation was attacked.  Where were you?  Most of us will never forget...I know I won't.

I feel like I need to rewind.  2001 was a big year for me.  I've been told before that I'm an "old soul," I can agree with that.  I think it's my life experiences that have made me that way, more mature in a sense.  I turned 21 in March of 2001. That summer I broke up with a long time boyfriend after 3 years.  He was allegedly "The One" but mere weeks later God led me to Chip who turned out to be "The Real One."  That same summer my best friend Meredith and I packed our bags and hopped a plane to Europe where we traveled around from town to town, country to country for nearly a month with no agenda.  I think everyone should have that opportunity at least once in their lives.  It doesn't matter how old you are or how little money you have.

At the end of July my precious niece Hannah was born.  I was able to be with her and care for her and her half sisters until September.  When most college kids were already back in school hitting the books and bars I was at home in Texas preparing for another adventure.  You see I was to travel abroad again to study the Fall semester in Valencia, Spain.  Studying abroad was no new challenge for me.  I'd lived in Quito, Ecuador as an exchange student back in 1997-1998.  I thrived for the adventure.  I yearned for the experiences and memories that no one was able to take away from me, ever.  My independence defined me.

September 11, 2001 I woke up, my bags had been packed for weeks because I was excited.  Ready for a new chapter, another edition to my life's journey.  I was in the bathtub at my moms house when I heard my sweet tiny headed mother yell, "Oh, Shit!"  I ran into the living room half naked and dripping wet because I knew something was wrong.  Terribly wrong, my mother just doesn't blurt out obscenities, ever.  I sat on the couch as I was trying to grasp what was going on.  I was watching, confused, quietly as the second plane came and hit the World Trade Center.  Certainly this is no accident.  It was devastating, people were jumping out of the windows of the skyscrapers.  My mom said something bad was going on, we should call Delta Airlines to make sure my flight from Houston to New York was still on schedule for today....September 11th.

I called Delta airlines and immediately got through to a customer support person.  I asked if my flight was still scheduled to leave Houston Intercontinental and fly to New York.  The airline employee assured me that it was.  I asked if she was aware that "something" has happened in New York.  Two planes had hit the World Trade Center Towers.  I don't remember her answer, I don't know if she even knew.  She double checked the schedule and said that everything was on time.  I hung up.  The world was still unaware that Our Nation had been attacked by terrorists.  That morning no one knew what exactly happened or why.

My mom and I sat in confusion.  What has happened?  What is going on?  Those planes!  Those people!  The workers in the Towers!  Do we pack up the car and continue to the airport as planned? The news caster came on the tv from the continual footage of the Towers.  He said that all airports are shut down.  All planes are grounded.  I called Delta airlines again, the man said everything was grounded and he was unsure when I'd be able to go to New York.  That was ok by me.  I continued to watch the devastation for hours...for days.  These people.  Their families.  I'm safe.  I'm numb.

Ten days later I was able to fly out.  My Aunt Rosemary and mom drove me to the airport.  I was being tough, I was ready, I wasn't scared.  My mom on the other hand was a nervous wreck.  She never showed it, but I know she was as she offered me a valium as we turned into the airport.  She assured me that it would be ok if I'd decided I didn't want to go.  I questioned it for a second but only a second.

Due to new security regulations my mom wasn't allowed to go back to the terminal with me.  They dropped me off outside.  We said our goodbyes and I lugged my luggage to the check in line.  Everything was quiet.  Everyone at one of the busiest airports in the country was solemn.  I stood in the check in line like all the other robots, one by one, quietly we moved through the line.  My heart began to palpitate as the man two people in front of me made his way to the counter.  He was foreign.  He became angry with the airline employee.  I couldn't hear, I could only see their gestures.  He would hold up his duffel bag and the lady would shake her head.  They called for another employee to come assist.  Then another.  The man was angry and I was thinking to myself, "Oh my god, this guy is a terrorist!  He's foreign and he wants to take that duffel bag on the freaking plane and blow us all up!"  I popped the Valium.

The airline employee gazed around the check in line and loudly asked, "Does anyone here speak Spanish?"  Gee whiz, I sighed.  I do.  The man just didn't understand that he had to check his bag.  He planned on carrying it on, but when they tried to take it and send it through he was angry.  I felt as though God was testing me.  Here I was passing judgement on this Hispanic guy - making it out in my head that he was a terrorist.  My God has a sense of humor, but that day he caught me off guard and busted me out on thinking the worst.

I boarded the plane.  Alleged Hispanic terrorist guy was not on my plane.  The flight was long.  I remember flying over New York, Ground Zero was still smoldering ten days later.  Unbelievable. Empty.  Tragic.  Violated.  Those words come to mind to describe the most indescribable site.

Everything else that day was a blur after that.  I don't remember how I got to the hotel, I don't remember where I stayed.  I remember thinking that it was a hole in the wall.  I ordered food from some restaurant down the street and by the time it got to me I wasn't even hungry anymore.  I remember looking out the window and the only thing I could see was a brick wall.  No view, I was alone and I felt alone.  What the hell am I doing I asked myself?

I was to meet my study abroad group from the University of Virginia the following day so we could all travel to Spain together.  I can't give up, other people aren't flaking out.  What if something happens again while I'm out of the country?  What if I can't get up with my family to know if they are ok?  That thought crossed my mind more than a million times before and during my study abroad.

The flight to New York after September 11th and the journey thereafter changed me both positively and negatively.  I hate to fly now.  Yet, I got to see first hand how other countries handled something so catastrophic that happened on our soil.  In Spain I was once in a public restroom and a woman cried to me, tears streaming down her face, about how awful the attack on our country was; and everyone always asked if I knew anyone that was there at Ground Zero.  These people were passionate and sympathetic to the United States.  They felt our pain and sorrow and wanted to share in our grief.

To this day I have my plane ticket from Houston to New York on September 11, 2001 in a frame in my office.  It helps me keep perspective.  Keep my focus.  Don't dwell on the little things.  Life is too short.  Love deep.  It's ok to cry.  It's ok to be scared.  It's definitely ok to take an adventure and don't forget to live life to the fullest because we never truly know how much time we have here on Earth.

God Bless America.   Never Forget.

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