The following reflections were written by my husband. You can see my own reflections on Remembering September 11 on 5 Minutes for Mom.
Decisions Can Have a Lasting Impact
Ten years ago…
- I had just celebrated my 30th birthday.
- I was returning to work, after recovering from hernia surgery.
- I was working on Holocaust restitution and traveling the world by private jet.
- Our first child was just starting kindergarten.
- My wife and I were trying very hard to adjust to the demands of being outnumbered by three children.
- I started taking Tae Kwon Do to fulfill a childhood desire that had never gone away.
- We had refinanced our home in the suburbs of Washington, DC to a fixed rate 15-year mortgage.
The morning of September 11, 2001 started no different than any other. I got dressed for work and drove into the city. Sometimes I rode the metro, but that day I had driven. I had a maroon 1994 Geo Prizm. The trunk was scratched through from a bike rack I used to carry around. It never rusted because there wasn’t actually a speck of metal in the entire body of the car (all plastic).
I was somewhere on Canal Road – a beautiful little street with a cobblestone wall that runs along the Potomac river and drops you off right in Georgetown next to the Ukrainian embassy (about 10 minutes from my office on a good day).
This time of year, the leaves are still completely green and thick, so much so that any view of the river or city is quite concealed by the trees and foliage.
Before I got to the end of Canal Road, the DJs on the radio announced that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City. I listened for the next 10 – 15 minutes as I made my way into the office at 13th and L streets. When I got to the office they had a TV on and were watching the coverage.
What had happened? How could the pilot have been so off course? I remembered that years earlier, a plane had crashed into the 14th street bridge just after taking off from Washington National airport. This looked like the same kind of freak accident at the moment.
Not long after, the second plane hit the other tower. To this day, I have no memory of whether I saw it happen live or not. I have seen it so many times on TV that my own recollections have been washed away and flooded with the TV footage. It was 15 minutes between the first tower and second tower being hit. In all probability, I was in the elevator of my building as it occurred.
Once the second plane hit, it was clear that this was no accident.
I would later hear from a friend of mine in New York, Chris Carnicelli, who worked for Generali Insurance, that he watched from his office window as one person after another jumped to their death. He had a horrifying front row seat to the entire unfolding scene.
Across the river from my office, just 35 minutes later, the Pentagon was the next target. Shortly after the plane hit, we could see the smoke rise through our office windows.
Some time in the next 20-30 minutes, former Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who was my boss at the time, called me from his home in Charlottesville, Virginia to find out what was happening. He asked me one question: “What do you think we should do there?” I told him that since we didn’t know what would happen next, we should send everyone home immediately.
I spent the next 3 and half hours in my car trying to get out of the city. The traffic was grid locked everywhere. Cell phones didn’t work and I couldn’t contact my wife to let her know that I was safe and on the way home. I was glad I drove that day and wasn’t at the mercy of public transportation. I don’t remember if they shut down the metro or not.
As I reached my home, there was an unbelievably loud roaring sound right above my head. It didn’t sound like a plane crash, but it was clearly a noise I had never heard there before.
One or two F15s were patrolling the airspace around us. We live directly in the path between the White House and Camp David. I later learned that at 10:10 am, long before I reached home, that these pilots had been given clearance to shoot down any remaining hijacked planes, which is what they were circling around looking for.
They were traveling so fast that by the time you heard them, they had passed so far beyond you that you could barely get a glimpse. My wife caught a tiny image of one of them with her camera. It looks like a thumbnail image in one of our scrapbooks.
As events unfolded and details emerged, we became different people. No longer did we live in a safe and secure world. Our town, our home, Gaithersburg became part of a world in conflict. We didn’t know what to expect next. Was there more to come? Was it safe to leave our house?
I felt an anger and disbelief that my world was not the same place it was when I left for work that morning. But, I was safe and had not lost any family members or friends.
Well, almost nobody.
On the morning of September 11, a friend of mine, Neil Levin, was having breakfast in Windows on the World, a very nice restaurant at the top of the North Tower. I met Neil and worked with him when he was the Superintendent of Insurance for the State of New York. We was one of the key people that helped bring Holocaust-era insurance restitution to the table. After he left that position, he became the Executive Director of the Port Authority and had responsibility for running the World Trade Center.
For quite some time after 9/11, I found myself looking at the resume he sent me several months earlier. He has asked Secretary Eagleburger to see if he could get a position in the new Bush administration.
Mr. Eagleburger had influenced Colin Powell heavily on some of his top picks, including Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage. I remember sitting in his office as Secretary Powell was lamenting that there were people trying to force him to take people he didn’t want. Mr. E’s response was “you’ve got to have someone in that position who’s going to watch your back.”
If anyone could get Neil in the door, it was Mr. Eagleburger. Unfortunately, Neil never got a spot with the Bush administration, which led him to take the job at the Port Authority.
How different our lives can be because of one decision.
Where would I be today if I had not made some of the good decisions of the past ten years?
Where would I be if I could go back and change some of the mistakes I made over the same time frame?
I think that looking back over the last ten years, the one thing that seems to matter most is not the big decisions or small decisions gone right or wrong, but the decisions I failed to make at all.
Of all the things I try hard to do differently, one stands out more than all of them.
When I hear a quite voice inside me tell me that I should do something, I try to act on it: send a quick email to someone, check on something, ask somebody about something, or any number of other small things.
Truly, most of these things are small and seemingly insignificant, but seem to always yield positive fruits.
I don’t lament some “good” things that I feel have not yet occurred, or even some big mistakes that have occurred. I lament not acting quickly when I feel inside that I should or should not do something. Even when it is just something small.
I am getting better, more quick to react and more in tune with these thoughts and ideas that come to my mind. I hope that I will get even better over the next ten years because I still have a lot of decisions to make.
The Pentagon and WTC photos are part of a “Looking into the Past” series by Jason E. Powell on flickr (creative commons). It is a fascinating series of photos looking back on 9-11.
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