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That Day

Two decades have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Like most Americans, the events of the day are etched in my memory — where I was, what I was doing, who I was with, how I learned about the tragedy, etc.

I was at work that Tuesday morning — a small office in Dalton, Georgia. My phone rang, and I answered.

“Hey,” my husband said. “Something just happened in New York. A plane just flew into one of the buildings.”

As he spoke, I envisioned him standing in our kitchen at home. He had come downstairs to get a cup of coffee and turned on the television for a few minutes to see what was going on in the world.

“A big plane or a little plane?” I asked.

“A big plane,” he answered. “Oh wow. They are saying it’s the World Trade Center. Smoke is billowing out.”

Just weeks before, Gene and I had vacationed for a week in New York. We hit several of the tourist attractions including climbing the 162 steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, viewing the city atop the Empire State building, hanging out in Time Square, taking in a Broadway show, walking through Central Park, browsing art in several museums, and visiting the World Trade Center — the financial capital of the world.

“Do you think it was an accident?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I mean, how could it be an accident?”

His words sank in slowly.

“Let me call you back in a little while,” I said. “I need to finish what I’m working on here.”

We said our goodbyes. A few minutes later, he called back. I looked at the clock in my office. It was 9:05 a.m.

“Another plane has hit the second World Trade Center building,” he said, his voice elevated in pitch. “This is unreal. Both buildings are on fire now.”

The next thing I remember, I was standing in my boss’ office telling him and another coworker, Dana, what Gene had shared with me. The blood drained from Dana’s face, and she put a hand over her mouth in disbelief. My boss’ eyes welled with tears.

I walked back to my office and called some old coworkers — friends — who worked at Robins Air Force Base. I was certain they knew, but I wanted to make sure. They already knew.

I sat back in my chair, and the phone rang again. It was Gene. He told me the buildings had collapsed. I can’t remember his exact wording, because I think I was a bit in shock. No tears came — just numbness.

Some of us gathered in the center of the office and prayed together. Twenty minutes later, my boss called our staff into the conference room.

“I think we all need to go home and be with our families,” he said on the verge of breaking down. “Please be careful on your way home. You are all very important to me.”

I stayed in Dalton until 2 or 3 p.m. I sat in traffic on Walnut Avenue listening to NPR, looked at the car next to me, and saw a man sobbing behind his steering wheel. He wiped his tears on the sleeve of his crisp, white dress shirt. My tears still didn’t come.

On the interstate as I drove southward, my thoughts turned to our young nieces and nephews. I wondered what their lives — their futures — would be like in the new world. I feared large-scale domestic attacks of terrorism would be regular occurrences — commonplace.

When I got home, my husband and I sat in front of the television for hours, learning the specifics of the attacks — New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. We watched first responders work amid the pale gray dust and debris. We learned of heroes who acted that day. We listened to loved ones who were interviewed as they searched for their loved ones, hoping they had made it out somehow. They carried photographs in their hands. It was chaotic madness.

I remember the feeling I had that day — like being punched in the gut. I couldn’t breathe.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does to many of you. Though most of you don’t know me personally, we share this one thing — we all lived through the trauma of 9/11. We are connected because the attack was against all of us. It had a huge impact on us. It changed us, and though we have healed somewhat in twenty years, we all bear the scars.

On this solemn anniversary, let us remember the day with great reverence. Let us remember but be thankful for the resilience and strength of our nation. Let us remember the sadness but also the unity we felt as a nation. Most of all, let us remember that we are all threads woven together in the same American fabric. Our DNA contains red, white, and blue, and 9/11 is part of each of us, and will always be.

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