Working at a financial institution on the day of an unprecedented attack on American soil had its fair share of terrifying moments. That morning was a beautifully sunny day, with a crisp breeze uncommon for early September.
Several people in the office, including my boss, were abuzz about what was thought to have been a commuter or tourist plane hitting the side of one of the World Trade towers. As we discussed the possibilities of accident versus declaration of war, a coworker made her way into the boss’s office and announced, “a second plane hit us.”
In that moment, we all knew that our world, our sense of safety and normalcy was changed forever. For the rest of the day I had to operate the PBX switchboard because our normal Operator was out sick.
I spent the rest of the day assuring people that their money was safe and that it was not a wise idea to pull all of their money out at once. And in between phone calls drenched with panic, I listened to my desk radio and the live coverage of the unfolding events in both Washington and New York. I was certain that another strike was imminent.
I had lunch in my car that day, scanning stations for as much music as possible, something to dilute the affiliate stations cutting to live descriptions of the damage inflicted that morning. The song “Overcome” by Live was playing on KISS FM, when KISS actually played music, and for a moment, just a brief moment, I was still.
The drive home was surreal and heartbreaking all at once. As I turned down Thousand Oaks and headed towards home, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” flowed out of my car’s speakers and slapped me across the face with the gravity of what had happened that day.
I had expected long lines at the gas stations and grocery stores, possibly people running in the streets. Perhaps my sensibilities were too much in tune with Roland Emmerich and his brand of disaster scenarios, but I’m glad that I was proven wrong.
Instead of chaos, I saw people driving home and pulling into their driveways, running inside and hugging their families. I saw neighbors talking to neighbors, asking if everyone in the family was alright. I saw people lending others cell phones to try to call into New York and inquire about family and friends living near Ground Zero.
While I felt a larger, national sense of dread for what might come to pass in the next few days, perhaps another wave of attacks, I had a micro sense of security and safety because of what I witnessed on my way home that evening. I saw just a sliver of humanity in the face of the Unknown.
Our worst nightmare as a nation had just arrived at our doorstep, but instead of cowering in fear, we embraced our neighbors as comrades and eventually took the fight to the viper’s den.
I couldn’t tell you what I did on September 12th, 13th, or 14th – but I’ll never forget the 11th.