To be honest, there are major gaps in my memories of September 11, 2001.
I remember when my husband (who worked down the hall) called and said “Turn on the Today Show, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”
I remember evacuating my employees from the building. I remember sitting in the car on Constitution Avenue, hearing the news that a plane was heading for the State Department, and trying unsuccessfully to call my husband to say “I’m not moving, you can walk over one block and we can go home together.”
I remember calling my Mom and then going to the nursery to hold Apple, a stuffed beagle we got on our last trip to New York, and Hope, a chocolate, floppy-eared dog we got in Annapolis. Both for our baby-to-be. And I remember sitting in the rocker praying. Praying for the lives turned upside down and praying that my husband would make it home safe.
I don’t remember turning on the TV. I didn’t need to. I had just driven by the Pentagon still spewing sky-high flames and the blackest smoke I had ever seen. I was the only car on the 14th Street Bridge as dozens of commuters walked beside me, leaving the District behind.
I remember picking Bill up from work (don’t ask me where), the sound of fighter jets flying over my house all night, and not being able to close my eyes. The rest of the day is a blank. I don’t need to remember it, I don’teven try.
Because what I never want to forget is September 12, 2001. Like many of us, we returned to the “same old routine,” but with a totally new perspective. I paid attention to little things, like the incredible blue sky. That morning, my best friend Diedre and I walked to Starbucks, and on the way, met a woman who was wearing a red, white, and blue ribbon. We commented on how beautiful it was, and she told us that she had the ribbon at home, and just felt compelled to make them. She gave us each one.
I wore that ribbon every day until we headed to Florida to await Catherine’s birth in late October. In the weeks that followed September 11, 2001, I saw hearts and souls transformed. [The royal] we talked with civility and courtesy. We made a point of saying “hello,” or being a little more courteous. Despite the fact that people worked shift-upon-shift for weeks on end, there were never any complaints about being tired or working too much. Family members, companies, and church congregations would bring meals for us almost every day. They had spent hours cooking enough to feed the 100 or so people on a shift. This lasted for weeks.
We lived in a moment when generosity that knew no bounds. Hearts that were boiling over with hurt and sadness were determined to make something good come from tragedy. That reflective mood and sense of gratitude guided us through the holidays, but then slowly faded to the background. It was only natural. I knew it wouldn’t last forever. It couldn’t.
So on September 11 and September 12, I will put on my pin, as I do every year, and remember the people who showed us that love matters most. I will remember that the venomous, acrimonious talk we hear day in and day out can be silenced with simple acts of kindness and respect. And I will hope that next time, it won’t take a tragedy to unveil our generous hearts.