That September morning air was so crisp, so crystal clear, but we were all choking.
American soil had been hit by terrorists, killing thousands, and our nation's foundation had been rocked, sending up a cloud of grief and disbelief that we couldn't help but inhale.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the world changed — for all of us at once.
The reality hit us in waves, pulsing in concentric circles south from the World Trade Center, north from the Pentagon and east from a field in Pennsylvania, catching the Baltimore region in its crosshairs.
At once, the destruction felt all too close, in our backyards, and all too far away, with loved ones unreachable.
Some stood arms crossed, others sat palms sweating, staring in shock at television screens. Some darted out the door, racing to their children's schools, unsure of the nation's security. Still others grabbed phones, more land lines back then, and fought through jammed signals to reach those caught up in the chaos, which included many Marylanders.
According to one tally, Maryland had the sixth highest number of victims of all 50 states, with 50 Marylanders killed. The 9/11 Memorial of Maryland, which counts connections to the state rather than residence here, honors 68 victims from 13 counties and Baltimore City.
Plenty of other Marylanders escaped death but were badly scarred, and 10 years later, they still carry harrowing stories of what they saw that day — of ash and fire raining down, of metal shards and low-flying planes, of grieving faces and people weeping.
Still others who responded from the Baltimore region to the disaster scenes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have stories, too, of digging through rubble, of bits of clothing strewn about, of the smell of petroleum and burning plastic.
They pushed ahead like the rest of us.
Gas masks, flags
In the days following Sept. 11, local stores sold out of gas masks and American flags, as people countered fear with patriotism.
Flags went up on car antennas, and homes and business fronts.
Attendance at area churches, synagogues and mosques spiked; and congregations sang patriotic songs together.
Communities closed ranks, sometimes excluding Muslim neighbors, other times embracing them.
People feared "fear itself," for sure, but they also feared many other things —including travel abroad and trips to local tourist attractions.
Event planners and car rental companies took a hit in business. At least one local gun shop reported an increase in the sale of ammunition and weapons.
College students and others held vigils and moments of silence, and blood drives. Girl Scouts and local firefighters raised money for New York City firefighters. Kids sold lemonade for relief aid.
People waved flags on highway overpasses, in shifts.
As time rolled on, the effects of Sept. 11 continued.