Where Were You the Day America Changed? One Unified’s Own Accounts of 9/11.

This week, we shared some of our readers personal accounts of September 11th, 2001. Today, we share our own personal
accounts with all of you. Why do we feel it’s necessary to bring back the memories of such a tragically sad day? We’ve asked ourselves that question many times over. Maybe it’s healing. Maybe it’s to make sure that we don’t forget. Maybe it’s to help others learn about these events from a first person view. Maybe it’s something we can all relate to. Whatever the reason, many of us have vivid memories of that day. Here are ours…

noelle9:11There are a handful of events that changed my life forever. Falling in love with my husband, giving birth to my son, losing my uncle and September 11, 2001. That sunny, blue skied, Tuesday morning will forever be burned into my memory, like so many other people. My husband, who is a mail carrier, happened to be off that day and was home with our, then, 3 1/2-year-old son while I went to a friend’s house to get my hair cut. He took our son with him and our neighbor to get tires for his car. I was on route to my friends when I heard, on a local radio morning show (Preston and Steve), reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I was stunned, but not alarmed, just thinking it was a terrible accident. I continued my drive. I then heard one of the radio personalities say that a second plane hit the other tower. Honestly, I thought they were joking and that it was in bad taste. I would’ve preferred that was the case but of course, it wasn’t. I called my husband to ask if he heard the news, and then my mother, who was working in center city Philadelphia at the time.

In the days and years that followed I’ve asked myself why I continued to my friend’s house and didn’t turn around and go home. But I didn’t. I think I didn’t quite grasp what was happening; the magnitude of it. It was all speculation at that point. When I arrived there, she had no idea what had happened. Having small children, all the TV’s were tuned into Nickelodeon or another channel showing much more innocent programming than what was on all the other channels. At that time, they didn’t break in with breaking news. Once I filled her in, she changed the channel and we watched in disbelief as a plane flew through the Pentagon. Fear set in. Her husband, a contractor, was doing work at Philadelphia International Airport that day. Not knowing where the next attack would be, but sure there would be more, she was petrified for her husband. Fortunately, he was ok. And after some time, I headed home. In that time, United flight 93 crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.

My husband, son and I sat with our neighbors in front of the television as we continued to watch the horrors unfold live. The towers falling, learning the number of human lives lost, watching then mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani trying to keep his city together. A vivid memory for me, was watching as air traffic was cleared…the map showing all the “blips” disappearing from the previously friendly skies. In the days that followed, I unfortunately didn’t move from the television. I cried every waking moment. What kind of world was this going to be for my son? I spiraled down. I didn’t want to do anything. Talk to anyone. I ventured into a church for the first time in a while, by myself, to pray and search for answers. Then, one afternoon, I noticed my son playing with his toys. He had his firefighter, army and police figurines arranged around a miniature American flag on our coffee table. That was the moment I realized the news could not be on 24/7. I needed to snap out of it for his sake.

I decided to go to the mall with a couple of my neighbors who were going to purchase clothes for their kids who were back to school. As we approached Roosevelt Boulevard and Comly Road, there were people standing on the sidewalks up and down the Boulevard waving flags, chanting “USA”, hugging each other. Cars and trucks were beeping and waving. I had to be there. I asked my friends to let me out and carry on to the mall without me. They chose to join me instead. That moment, filled my heart and spirit so much. We talk about being unified on this site often (it is, after all, the idea behind it), and THAT day on THAT road, was one of the most unified feelings I’ve ever had. I never felt more connected to the people in my community than I did that day, and haven’t since.

As the days went on, planes were once again allowed in the air. I live near an airport and I remember the first couple of weeks after the attacks, the planes taking off or landing and being so scared of each plane that sounded especially low. As time went on, it became the normal noise again. The wounds healed, but they left some nasty scars. It’s been 14 years and I still think about that day often. I watch the specials, the interviews and maybe I shouldn’t. But I do. I pray for the families that were personally affected. I pray nothing like that ever happens again. That day changed most of us in some way. It knocked us down a few pegs and made us question our safety and existence. But it also showed us what people are made of, and I’m not talking about the sub-humans that did this. I’m talking about the firefighters and police officers that walked into danger to save others, not knowing if they’d come back out. The civilians that volunteered to hand out water, sift through debris, give blood. The ones that went back to look for or save co-workers and friends, the people who were on a plane and sacrificed themselves to save our capital showed the best of humanity in the worst of times. And, for me personally, I thank those people of Philadelphia, lined up on a busy road to stand together in unity to give me hope for humanity. Noelle

911-1On the morning of September 11, 2001 I started my morning commute in the usual way. I woke up, got dressed, got into my car, and proceeded to my job as a social worker at a long-term care facility in Philadelphia. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the day, save maybe the fact that I was moving a little slower than normal as I was 8 months pregnant with my first child and really starting to feel the effects of my larger size and the long summer’s heat. As per my usual at the time, I had Howard Stern tuned in on the radio (call it a pregnancy related craving). When Howard and Robin (Quivers, co-host and the show’s news reporter) said that a plane had reportedly crashed into one of the buildings of the World Trade Center, I like almost everyone, figured that it was a small private commuter type of plane that had somehow veered horribly off course. It would not have been the first time that a small aircraft had hit a high-rise building, and my initial thought was, how sad for anyone who was aboard that plane. As they continued to talk on the air, speculating about what had happened and discussing the resulting fire from the crash, I went over my day’s agenda in my head. Nearly at my destination, there was no way I could have prepared myself for what was about to come.

I pulled up outside my office and Howard and his crew had resumed talking about whatever goofy things they talked about that morning. I continued to listen as I gathered up my things and got ready to go. Their banter was sprinkled with mentions of the possibility of a terrorist attack and of the plane reportedly being a commercial airliner. Despite their ability to keep things humorous, my nature (and raging pregnancy hormones)  had me nervous and upset. I got out of my car and ran into the building, stopping just long enough to put my things down in my office and get out to the unit I worked on. When I got there the televisions were already tuned to the local news. I got on to the unit at about 9:01 a.m. that day. At 9:03 a.m. I watched in absolute horror along with the other staff and residents of that unit, as United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I slid down against the wall I’d been leaning on and felt my stomach drop as I watched the second tower burst into flames.

We watched in horror as report after report began documenting the events that had transpired behind the scenes that morning. The reports of a potential hijacking, then the alerting of the President. We watched as the report came across about the Pentagon. It was the most horrified and helpless I remember feeling in my adult life. We were under attack, and no one knew where it would happen next. By this point some of the other staff that I work with, including some of my close friends, had assembled together to try to make some sense of what was happening. I listened as, for the first time in the history of aviation, the FAA grounded all flights over or bound for the continental United States and directed the over 3,300 commercial flights already in the air, to their safest, closest destinations. I crumbled to the floor, torn between being a strong voice for the people I was charged with caring for, and a weeping child, crying for a world that no longer would exist. I chose the first option and I gathered my things and began to check on all of the residents and staff.

Some of the people who resided on my units had family, friends, or neighbors who worked in and around what would later be known as Ground Zero. Fortunately, my work was primarily with patients who were struck with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, many of whom could not fully grasp what was occurring, nor could they even recall that someone they loved was trapped in the horror that we watched. It may have been the first time I saw any positives to those illnesses. After I had made my rounds, and contacted my husband and family, we gathered together to have a staff meeting. Getting through to our loved ones was difficult but not impossible. Getting through to anyone in or around the island of Manhattan was an exercise in futility. My co-worker and friend was trying to reach her father who lived in Manhattan at the time. A nurse on my unit was trying to reach her son, who worked in a building a half a block away from 1 World Trade Center. The bridges in and out of Philadelphia had been closed and I think we all agreed that not much work was going to be done that day. We were all in what I can clearly see now, was a state of shock. Still, the bulk of us soldiered on and stayed in the building, together, watching as the picture of what transpired that day became clearer and clearer.

When I got home that day, I collapsed in a ball on my couch. There I would remain for the next 4 days pretty much around the clock. I, like my co-founder and friend, spiraled into a sadness so profound that I knew I had to shake it, but I was bound to it in an inexplicable way. I felt like I owed it to those people to watch, to never take my eyes off of their story, their pain. I felt like I owed it to the people who died on the planes just trying to get where they were going that day; to the people who left for work that morning like I did, never possibly imaging that a 767 would come crashing through their building and end their lives. I felt like I owed it to the people who, when faced with the grisliest decision imaginable, chose to end their own lives in a truly unfathomable way, rather to then to see it end in an even more unfathomable way. But then, after days of phone calls and attempts by those nearest and dearest to me to “talk me down”, I had a moment of clarity.

My moment came when I had been cursing the world that I was about to bring a child into. I had spent days wondering how, wondering why, I would subject a new and innocent life to the atrocities of this world. And then, one night, in my usual CNN marathon viewing, came an interview with someone who had lost a child in the attacks. Days later and they were still hopeful. They hoped that somehow, some way, their loved one had gotten out. That maybe they were lost, confused, injured, or unable to communicate their identity. As unlikely as it seemed, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that they hoped. They were experiencing the greatest tragedy of our time first hand, and had the presence of mind to thank the first responders, those people who ran into a disaster to help others get out of it. They thanked the city, the police, the volunteers who had made their way to Ground Zero from all over in order to help. If they could have that kind of gratitude, that kind of hope, than surely I too could get up off of the couch, get on with my life, and have hope that I could make a place in this not always so terrible world for my child.

I didn’t stop watching altogether and I still watch the specials and the anniversary coverage. I will never forget. Nor should any of us. But I rededicated myself that day to being a more grateful person and to being a mom who shows her children that although there are bad things, and bad people in this world, every good and positive thought and action weakens the resolve of evil. It’s up to us to take the memories of that day, of those people, and make it somehow matter.

Don’t forget to honor one! #whowillyouronebe #oneof2977

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