Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thank you, Flight 93

Somehow writing about writing on September 11 seems inappropriate. Today, I'm just going to write.

I almost didn't go to work that day. My husband was home with our infant and I wanted to stay with them. But I ignored that feeling and went to work anyway. Trying to cheer me up, he promised to bring the baby and meet me for lunch near my job in Washington, D.C.

As soon as I arrived at work, smoke started to billow up from the street to my second story window, obscuring the view to the Capitol Building. A car was on fire below my window. I told a coworker I had a creepy feeling something awful was going to happen.

When we found out that there had been an accident at one of the Twin Towers, we huddled around a black and white TV. I glanced out the window and saw a nearby federal building that had a daycare on the first floor. Suddenly, all of the workers were running out with the children. Those too small to walk were being wheeled out, crib and all. That's when I started to get scared.

"What do they know that I don't?" I thought.

While watching the North Tower burn, a second plane hit the South Tower. We realized it was no accident. Soon afterward, we felt our building shake. Across the river, a third plane had struck the Pentagon.

I tried to call my husband at least 50 times, to tell him to stay home--from my cell and desk phone. I was dialing one while listening to the other. I couldn't do or think about another thing until I reached him. All of the lines were jammed with everyone trying to call their loved ones.

After speaking to my husband, I withdrew $100 from the ATM, thinking I would catch a cab to take me as far away as it could. I fled out of the building with thousands of others. My building is situated between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. I could see them both from where I stood. The White House is nearby. A deaf coworker, who lived close my home, was with me.

No cab would pick us up. Cabbies circled but refused to take any passengers. One even sped away when I put my hand on the door handle and I was forced to jump back or be dragged under it.

We were standing in front of the gates to the Smithsonian Castle. They slammed and locked the gate on us. The guards actually hit us with the gate when they locked it into place. The roads were jammed with cars. The subway workers told people to get off the trains and out of the stations. They closed and locked the station gates to the subway as well.

The police were speeding up and down the road, back and forth, with no seeming destination. The smell of rubber burning hung in the air and burned the back of my throat. I heard an engine rev and looked up to see a police car on the sidewalk barreling toward us. I grabbed my coworker, who couldn't hear it, and yanked her back. The car brushed our bodies as it drove by on the sidewalk. People were screaming and jumping out of the way to avoid him.

It looked like the set of a disaster movie. Everyone was running in different directions. People were yelling and screaming, crying and panicking. A woman, on a business trip from Boston, who'd been dumped out of the subway asked me how to get to Crystal City, Virginia. I told her she'd have to go over the Potomac on the 14th Street Bridge. Later, I found out armed military were standing on each of the bridges in the area, not letting anyone cross.

The worst moment occurred when a woman ran up and screamed, to no one in particular, that another plane was headed toward Washington--to where we were standing. I grabbed her arm and pulled her around to face me.

"What did you say?" I asked.

She repeated the CNN story, saying that the plane was headed our way. My friend grabbed my other arm and started pulling at it, wanting me to translate what was being said.

I couldn't think in English, let alone American Sign Language.

My heart did one tha-thrum in my ears before the the world ground to a halt, like a giant cog slowing down degree by agonizing degree. I was simultaneously icy and calm. Everything fell away, even my friend who was still tugging at my arm. I thought of my new baby, of how I would become a memory Daddy tried to keep alive. I was glad for the fact that I had just upped my life insurance. I thought about my loved ones. I forgot about all the stupid, petty problems that I was fretting about. I thought about seeing my beloved grandmother who had died ten years earlier.

Facing a possible death, I felt more alive than I ever had. Life boiled down to a few, select things. The good ones.

Last night, I was telling my child I had taken on another volunteer position, one that would be challenging.

"You always step in there," she said. "You've been on the school board. You've been the room mother. You've written the newsletter. You've done other stuff, too. You're not afraid. You just do it. You're my hero."

The kind of moment every parent cherishes. The kind of moment those who lost their lives on September 11 aren't here for. The kind of moment the ones they left behind can't have with them.

If not for the people on United Flight 93, I might not have been here for that moment.

I thank every single person on that flight. Because of their bravery and selflessness, countless lives were saved. They are the true heroes. I'm just fumbling along, doing the best I can with the life I've been given.

If you would like to share your thoughts and recollections with us, I would love to hear them. Thank you for listening to mine.


  1. Thank you, Flight 93.

    It is still so surreal, to me. I was not in the thick of it the way you were, Lisa. The way so many people were. But as I drove past the Pentagon this weekend, the thought of that plane crashing into it brought tears to my eyes, all over again.

    You did a beautiful job of describing that day and how it affected you. You brought the same visceral, emotional impact to this piece that I admire so much in your fiction. Reading what you said about your daughter, and how you are her hero brought tears to my eyes, too.

    Thank you for sharing it with the R8.

  2. Thank you, Yvonne. That really means a lot to me, especially coming from someone who I think is such a great writer.

    It is still surreal, isn't it? I get teary when I think of it, too. I don't think that's ever going away.

  3. Oh, Lisa. So well said. May our lives be a fitting tribute to those who died that day.

  4. What a poignant post, Lisa. Flight 93 went down a mile away from where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. It's totally surreal. Unbelieveable. Totally incomprehensible. And yet I'm so thankful it went down in that country field so far removed from the thousands and thousands of people it could have taken out that day. Remebering their bravery and the lives they saved because of their actions makes my daily trials seem woefully insignificant.