April 2018

Sunday, September 11, 2011


"Remembering the ATLAS Site Developers' Retreat in Boston on this fateful day. So much has happened in our lives in these 10 years! So glad we are both still here."--Sue Gee

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was in Boston at the John Hancock Center to meet my new colleagues and to learn about my new job with ATLAS, a national education reform organization. During our first morning break, I stepped into the hall to call my friends Jack and Sandy, whom I planned to visit after my week of training.

Jack answered the phone.
"Hey Jack. It's Mary. I just wanted to check in with you about this weekend."
"Mary! Oh my God! The world is ending!"
Thinking that their son Ben might be in some sort of trouble, I asked about him. Jack said, "No! Turn on the T.V.!" Then, I think he hung up on me.

Confused, I returned to the room where we were meeting. Someone had turned the television news on, and I watched planes fly into the twin towers. Security swept in with their holsters and their computers, telling us we'd need to leave the room because they needed it for a national emergency. Not knowing what news was breaking, Sue tried to convene us again. There was lots of confusion. Finally, we went next door, and the men in blue took over the room.

In the next room, my new colleagues and I watched as images of the planes flying into the twin towers played over and over.

Just that weekend, my brother, his wife, and their young child Hayden and I had walked to the towers from their home. It was pouring, and so I left my camera in Hayden's stroller. I'd get a picture another day.

As I watched those planes fly in the towers over and over, I sobbed. I knew that my sister-in-law and nephew often went there in the mornings for breakfast, and I feared that my little brother, whose job I've never understood except that it has something to do with the stock market, had been in the towers.

I looked at my new colleagues, strangers, around me. "No one could have survived that," I said. "I'm afraid my brother might have been there."

When I finally went to my room, I tried to call my family but couldn't reach anyone. I continued watching the news, hoping that I might learn something about my family. On the news, I saw a picture of my hotel. Supects of the attacks, the news reported, may be holed up in the hotel across the street. Blue-suited men sporting holsters and walkie-talkies were everywhere.

We were evacuated from the hotel. Then cordoned and required to stay inside. Then evacuated. Then cordoned. And so on. Late that day, I walked around town in the cold grey rain.  Groups of people with opinions shouted their nationalistic slogans--some pro-U.S. and others not.

I worried about what my country would do.

I went to a colleague's home with two other out-of-towners, glad to be away from the television images. We sat on the back porch, listening to the odd silence in the skies. Dad called to say that everyone in our family was safe. Now I could think about other peoples' grief. Back at the hotel that night, again we were cordoned and evacuated.

And then I went to Rhode Island to stay with my friends Jack and Sandy, hoping that flights to the west coast might resume from there. The trains were all full, and the cars were all rented. No flights would be leaving New York or Boston any time soon. Seattle was a long way away.

When I talked with Ann that night, I realized how different were our experiences of that day since I was on the east coast, and she was on the west coast. In Boston, my colleagues and I had been cordoned and evacuated over and over. I had wept. Ann's group was worried, but the day's evets were far away, and her meetings had resumed.

A few days later, I flew first class from Providence to D.C. to Portland to Seattle on one of the first flights to go cross country. I sat with a cabin full of pilots who whispered tensely in small knots in the aisles. Next to me, a pilot inked black angular lines on the back of his napkin. He exhaled heavily from time to time, running his hand through his dark hair.

When I arrived in the Seattle airport, the terminals were earily empty. I heard a shout and saw two flight attendants run to one another and grip one another in a tight embrace. After a long moment, they both started talking at once: "You're okay. What about..."

Ten years later, I sit in my Seattle church, listening to a trumpet play taps outside, feeling the sadness again, and remembering.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment: I'd love to hear your thoughts!