Seven years ago, this morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my two children, having breakfast before taking my youngest, Robert, to pre-school. The phone rang. I almost didn't answer it, because we were in a hurry. It was my friend, Marie Schulzinger, from Boulder, Colorado.
"Are you watching TV?" She asked.
"No." I said. Having a love/hate relationship with TV, my set was stored in a closet.
"Well, pull it out." She said. "Two planes have hit the World Trade Centers in New York and they believe that it's a terrorist attack!"
I ran to my closet, pulled out the TV and set it up in the kitchen. Reception was very poor. The picture was grainy. But there they were, the twin towers, like giant smoke stacks, spewing forth huge, black clouds of ash and soot.
Life would never be the same again.
For some reason that morning, I still felt the need to take my son to his pre-school, so the children and I set forth to a nearby bus stop. With my cell phone in hand, I received constant updates from Marie as events unfolded.
Soon I learned that a plane had hit the Pentagon.
I was sitting at the bus-stop on my return trip home when Marie called to say that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed.
"What do you mean 'collapsed'?" I demanded. I was sure she meant that a couple floors had collapsed and that in the emotion of the moment she was exaggerating.
"I mean collapsed!" She returned to me. "Elizabeth,... it- is- gone!"
Not many years before, on a trip to New York, I had stood facing the giant window at the top of the NorthTower, looking down at the ground far below me. I felt awe and fear at the enormous height of this building. Now, I wondered what it would be like to be trapped at such height, looking down at the disaster unfolding floors below and unable to escape it.
I felt sick to my stomach.
When I learned that a flight had gone down in a Pennsylvania farm field, I didn't need anyone to tell me that something had happened on that plane to bring it down before it could cause enormous damage elsewhere.
I spent the rest of the day fielding calls from my sister, Jeanie, who was visiting friends in Greece and who was unable to contact her husband, Bill, in Washington, DC. The phone lines were jammed. We didn't know it at the time, but Bill was in an undisclosed location working with U.S. Intelligence. I left messages for him on his cell phone. Later, he called me back as he was driving home to pick up clothes so that he could live at work for an undetermined period of time. While we were talking, he told me that he was driving passed the Pentagon and it was in flames.
The world seemed to have gone completely crazy.
Because of our closed airspace, it took two weeks to get my sister home from Europe.
In the days following the attacks life altered irrevocably. No longer did I feel the safety and security of being part of a vast nation with a strong defense system. I felt vulnerable and all too aware that anything could happen at anytime.
That feeling has never left me.
Two years ago, on another September 11th, while I was visiting the Healing Fields, an enormous annual flag display in Sandy, Utah, where I live, I had a touching experience. As I walked through the rows of flags, each one representing a person who lost their life on that awful day, I saw a young woman standing, flag in hand, gently caressing a name with one of her fingers. I walked over to her and made a comment about how incredible the field was. She looked up at me and said, pointing to a name, "This was my father."
I looked and saw the name "Kevin Smith". She told me that Kevin was attending a conference in New York on 9/11 and, in fact, was at a breakfast meeting in the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the North Tower, not far from where I once stood, at the time of the attack. We now know from telephone records that everyone in that Restaurant either jumped or passed out from smoke inhalation.
I asked this young woman, Kevin's daughter, if I could hug her. We embraced like sisters. I offered my condolences to her, told her that I would never forget her father's name, and then left her standing in the field to be alone with her memories.
Today, for Kevin Smith and all the other people who lost their lives on September 11th, I offer a moment of silence, prayers for their families, and a solemn remembrance of a day that changed the lives of every American forever.