I arrived at work right around 8:15, just as I normally did, placed my Starbucks cup on my desk and checked my voicemail. I set my new voice message, "Hi, You've reach Hillary Pennington, administrative assistant with All-American Recreation. Today is Tuesday, September 11, and I am in the office today. Please leave me a message and I will get back with you right away."
A few minutes later, life, as I had known it, changed. Our facilities guy came running down the stairs into our dungeon offices and told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in NYC. As I was the only person in my office, I dropped everything (literally) and rand up the short stair case to the facilities office. He was listening to the radio online, which was strictly prohibited by our IT department, but something told me that today they wouldn't care. Just as we begun to listen, we heard that a second plane hit another tower. Immediately I knew we were under attack. For several moments, we both stood silent, tears streaming down our cheeks. What do you say to that?
I rushed back to my desk to call Neil, my husband of one month. He was at school at Georgia Tech, and of course wouldn't answer his cell phone. I knew I'd have to wait for him to call me, so I grabbed my cell phone and head upstairs to the main offices. 120 people worked at Perimeter at that time, most of which had not even arrived at work. I wondered how many would hear about the attacks on the radio and head back home, but as I came out of the stairway into the main lobby, it was apparent I was the only one who knew. It was business as usual. I found Heidi at the front desk, and asked if she had heard about the planes that hit the World Trade Center. She grasped at a near by radio and tuned to a talk-radio channel. It seemed as though the world had stopped. There was no cable television at the church, which was quite surprising to me, but I'd never questioned it before. So a few of us huddled about the receptionist's desk listening intently for any new details. About the time, and I'm serious about this, I said aloud "Where will they hit next," the report came in that there was some sort of fire at the Pentagon. At this point, panic set in. What would stop them, whoever they were, from hitting Atlanta?
I didn't even notice the growing numbers of people gathering around us, hanging on every word that reporter said. Tony, our IT guy (yes, the one who wouldn't allow us to listen to radio online), told us he was gerry-rigging a TV so we could watch from the fellowship hall. It's amazing how quickly this all happened. I walked into the hall, the very hall I'd been married in the month before, just in time to see the first tower fall. How could I not cry? In that moment people died. I didn't know how many, but I knew it was inevitable. Moments later, the second tower came down, and in horror, I sat down on the floor and wept. And I wasn't alone. My colleagues, men and women, pastors and admins, moms and dads, stood, sat and knelt around me in utter and complete shock. As a staff we prayed, for hours it seemed, for the victims, the survivors, and yes, those responsible (whoever they were).
Never in my life had I seen such hatred clearly demonstrated, and my naivety was put to rest once and for all. In the days following the attacks, I began to see a country awakened with patriotic hearts, joining together for one cause...to put our land back together again, protect our people from further attack, and bring justice to the invaders. In those moments, I was thankful for George W. Bush, our commander in chief. I could not have imagined what it would have been like had Gore been our president. It was clear why Bush had won that race, no matter how tight it was.
Seven years and two and a half kids later, our country seems safe. We've avoided other attacks and have successfully fought our enemies on their territory and not ours. But it seems that it's so easy to forget what we went through. We're back to tearing each other apart, pointing fingers, concocting stories about 9/11 being an inside job (yeah, and the holocaust wasn't real either). Even in the midst of a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, all we could do was place blame. It seemed like the comrodarity we saw seven years ago has dissappeared. And in this ever so important, and historic election (on both sides), as American's we're going for the juggular instead of reaching out our hands. And don't get me started with the church. There's a song I just love about the body of Christ that says "if we are the body, why aren't his arms reaching? Why aren't his hands healing? Why are words words teaching?" Are those not the truest statements?
I encourage us to remember, and not just one day a year, but daily remember why we're Americans, why we love freedom, and why we were attacked. Live in a post-September 11th world, where we see the threats that surround us and respond to them, where we strive to protect ourselves and our neighbors, where we're proud of the freedom we have and the sacrifice it took to provide it.
Where were you on 9/11 and how did that day change your life?
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