“Missy! It happened again! Another plane just hit the World Trade Center.” One of the students in the research group I worked for at MIT was on the phone with her husband, who was in Brooklyn, relaying to her the horrible things he was seeing on September 11, 2001.
The first time he called to tell her a plane hit the WTC, we couldn’t believe it. I wondered how it could even happen. Was it on purpose? The second time he called, we knew.
That morning was probably the strangest morning of my life. People gathered around the available TVs to watch the news coverage. After the Pentagon was hit as well, rumors swirled about other planes in the air, aiming for the White House, Capitol Hill (where dear friends of mine worked) and other places in my hometown of Washington, D.C.
You couldn’t get calls to go through to check on loved ones for the longest time. I didn’t have a cell phone yet. I tried and tried to reach my grandma, who lived in Alexandria, Va., not far from the Pentagon. She used to work at the Pentagon.
The Pentagon is where my grandparents met.
Hours after the attacks, I finally got through. She was very upset. Turns out, I didn’t know how upset. I thought she told me one of my aunts was there with her. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least she wasn’t alone. Turns out, my aunt was stuck in traffic trying to get there.
It was one of the last times I would talk with my grandma. She died the next month.
We had to wait weeks to bury her. She was to be buried at Arlington National Ceremony, but there was a backlog of funerals for the victims of the Pentagon attack.
I returned to the D.C. area for her memorial service soon after she died. We drove past the Pentagon on the way. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the gaping hole in the side of that massive building.
I remember the outpouring of goodwill from other countries after the attacks. The way people helped each other to recover. Sadly, much of those attitudes have been lost in the intervening years. I hope it doesn’t take such a tragedy before we see that caring and thoughtfulness again.