I was trying to fly out to DC that night for a business meeting in the morning and we were in the midst of a bad thunderstorm. We had boarded a plane, but then had to deplane due to mechanical problems. Next we had to walk to another terminal to change gates. Then, because this had been going on for so long, our flight crew was past their allowed time without sleep and they needed to bring in a new flight crew. At that point I was about to hang it up and go home. I weighed the pros and cons of driving back early in the morning (and dealing with the kids, dogs, etc) or just waiting for a little while longer. Finally they announced we were REALLY ready to depart. I arrived late in Crystal City that evening, Monday, September 10th, 2001.
I woke up the next day and looked outside. Not only had the storm departed, but it was truly a glorious day. I had to go outside and take in the beauty of the day before my conference started.
Because I was out of town, my husband had to go in later than usual as he needed to take the kids to school. He worked on Water Street in the financial district and usually took the train into the World Trade Center, a short walk from the office. This day, running late, he decided to take the ferry, which brought him a bit closer to the office. Besides, it was a gorgeous day. He was standing on the dock waiting for the ferry when he saw the 2nd plane hit the building.
Meanwhile, we were about to go on a break in our meeting, when a guy barges in and says “A plane just hit the World Trade Center!” As a small plane had unfortunately veered off course and hit a building a few weeks earlier, we all just shook our heads and muttered at what an unfortunate coincidence that was. We wandered out into the hallway to grab a coffee and took a glance up at the muted TVs on the walls. Indeed there was smoke coming out of the building, but this did not look like a small plane. We asked the hotel manager to put on the sound and then learned the terrifying details. It took a few minutes for it to sink in – and then I thought of my husband. I had no idea where he was.
In my panic to find out about him, I totally forgot the fact that we were located near the Pentagon. Fortunately my colleague was an ER doctor, used to thinking quickly in emergencies and said to me “We have to get out of DC!” He went to the concierge to try to find a driver as I went to my room to pack up. It was while packing I saw the second tower collapse.
Because of Stanley’s quick thinking, we found a driver and car who would take us all the way back to New Jersey. We packed the car with anyone who was heading that way and left. We got out just as they were shutting down all the highways in the area. I will never forget the surreal scene of people streaming out of the Pentagon and walking down the highways.
I finally reached my husband on the phone as we were on our way home, and will be forever grateful that I decided to take that trip that stormy night. Had I decided to come back and not go to DC, he would have been on the train going into the WTC or walking to his office there at that time.
I have heard countless stories of people who had meetings cancel at the last minute, who were running late, who went back home to get something they forgot, who missed some transportation…and were saved as a result. I can’t help but feel these are not accidents. And I can’t help but be grateful that my family was spared that unimaginable sorrow this time.
We don’t know why some were saved and some weren’t. Maybe we never will. But maybe every day this same thing happens, just not as dramatically. I can recall several close encounters or near misses in my past where one minute earlier or later it would have been a different story.
So, for today, I will give thanks for the gift of life, knowing I must be here for a reason. May I do my best to make it worthwhile.