It’s hard to believe that it was 11 years ago today that the towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and nearly three thousand people perished. It was a Tuesday, like today. And blue sky, like today.
I admonish myself to think only of those who suffered, and the families who still suffer. But it’s human nature to think also of ourselves, to remember where we were and what we felt. That’s not selfishness. It’s finding a connection to our fellow Americans, our fellow world citizens, in remembering the moment when the world seemed shaken off its axis. Each of us thinks about how we found out, who we worried about and called, and how scary it all was.
I was in Washington. It was my fifth day at work at NPR. I had just graduated from college and was an intern at the network. It was, as we all remember, a beautiful blue-sky day. Crystal clear, warm. My roommate, Jamie, and I got ready for work together and walked over to the bus stop. We lived in Arlington and needed to take a bus and a train into DC to get to our jobs. We didn’t have to get to our offices until 10am, so we were commuting together.
Before we left, one of the local radio stations that Jamie was listening to in the kitchen was reporting that something strange was happening in New York City—something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. But, at the time, it wasn’t clear that it was a big plane or that this was something as clearly devastating as it turned out to be.
A few minutes later, on the bus, Jamie and I were pleasantly debating where to get off to catch the train. Jamie wanted to get off at the Pentagon but I convinced her to get off one stop earlier where we could also catch the subway.
The morning rush hour had thinned out but the train was still pretty full. Jamie sat down in a seat and I stood by the window, facing her, my back to the front of the train. We had just stopped underneath the Pentagon to let people on and off and we were headed up out of the tunnel to cross the bridge over the Potomac River, taking us into DC. I gazed out the window, watching the Pentagon shrink as I was whisked backwards towards the city. And then turned back to talk to Jamie.
When I looked out the window again, the Pentagon wasn’t there. I mean it was there, but there was a huge explosion and plume of thick black smoke. It was abundantly clear that something—a bomb, a missile, or, as it turned out, a plane, had hit the building.
We continued to speed over the river and other people in the train started to notice what was happening. You could start to hear the fear in people’s voices. This was well before the days of smart phones and internet radio, but enough people had heard about the planes in New York City to know that something really bad was happening. And then we were plunged back into the darkness of the underground subway tunnel.
When I got to NPR headquarters it was all a blur. I didn’t do much work that day; I didn’t know enough to be helpful; it was only my fifth day. But in the days after the attacks they found a job for me on the phones. My task was to line up guests for the all-day broadcasts of Talk of the Nation. And they wanted me to call victims’ families.
Just a couple of months earlier, when my friend Haley Surti died on assignment for Let’s Go, the travel guide company we both worked for, I had been contacted by the Boston Globe and other newspapers, wanting a quote about what a special person Haley was. And I just couldn’t do it. So it felt very strange suddenly to be thrust into the position of calling others who were going through very personal and VERY public tragedies.
In a way, this made me especially well-equipped. I identified myself immediately on the phone, giving grieving family members a chance to hang up on me, or to say no. But some of them wanted to talk. I still remember the name of one woman who died on Flight 11 from Boston. I spoke with her husband that first week and he agreed to tell the world how special his wife was, to put a face and a name on a massive horror.
Tara Creamer. Of all the names of all the people killed on that day, hers will always be with me.
And so, today, I remember Tara. I remember the 2977 victims who died in the attacks. I remember others, who died later. And I remember where I was, eleven years ago this morning.