Where were you when the planes hit the Towers?
I was in California, at a resort near Lake Tahoe with my husband and the baby we'd brought home from Cambodia just ten days earlier. We were there for a conference. I remember I woke up ridiculously early, around five. At the time I attributed it to still being on East Coast time. Now I'm not so sure.
I tiptoed out of the bedroom so as not to wake Richard or baby Sophia. I remember looking at the huge TV in our sitting room. wanting to turn it on but unwilling to make any noise. So I sat there, staring at the blank screen. I felt like I was waiting for something.
The something came in the form of a phone call from one of the conference managers. "There's been this huge terrorist attack!"
I got on the phone and tried to call my family in New York. I needed to find my brother , who worked in the city for an investment house. But no calls were going through.
We went down to the conference command center, where ten or fifteen New Yorkers were gathered around the TV screen. The news was confusing and devastating. The room was virtually silent, except for the drone of the TV and the occasional person wondering aloud where their roommates/boyfriends/sisters were, trying to keep the panic out of their voices.
I must have started hyperventilating or something, because all of a sudden I realized I needed some air. I put Sophia into a stroller and took her for a walk on the woodland paths near the hotel. I thought, Ten days ago I brought this child out of Cambodia so she could have a better life here. Now I can't even promise her safety?
They cancelled the conference. They had to, since no flights were being allowed. The huge resort was like a ghost town, with only a handful of people drfiting through its lounges and passageways. Everyone talked in whispers.
Church services were organized. We knelt together in a small rustic church that usually had only vacationers as its congregation. We sang God Bless America. We cried.
The next day we were able to call New York. My brother and all my family were fine; one friend had had a close call, late for work and just getting off the subway when the first plane hit, a couple of blocks from her office when she saw the second plane strike the other tower. In the coming week I would learn about friends who weren't so lucky. We all did. And we all grieved.
9/11 is a day everyone who lived through it will remember the same way they remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when the Great Blackout hit New York. I know that I cannot forget the devastation of that day, or the realization that came afterwards: that we were at war with an enemy who refuses to show himself until he was slitting the throats of helpless flight attendants, or murdering fathers and mothers and children.
There is one other thing about that day that will live in my memory until I have no more memory left. In the conference office we stood around the television in a big semi-circle, our eyes glued to the screen, our ears straining for any new information, any sign of hope. Suddenly one of the staffers cried out. "Hey!"
Across the empty space of the semi-circle, on the carpeted floor of the conference room, Sophia Teresa Vigilante was taking her first steps.
I had my sign of hope.
God never gives up, people. And neither should we.