Remembering 9/11: A day that changed our lives forever

Ten years ago, I remember driving down 16th Street on Sept. 11 to my office near Georgetown, on a day when the cloudless sky was a brilliant blue. I was thankful that the walking cast I was wearing was not on my left foot because traffic was more stop than go, and I was using the clutch more than the gas pedal. I couldn't understand why traffic was so backed up.

Then I heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and shortly afterward, a second one had hit the twin towers in an act of terrorism.

Then there was a report of a plane crashing into the Pentagon, and I realized that traffic was at a standstill because streets were probably being shut down for security purposes all over the city.

As I sat in traffic, I called family members to make sure they were OK. My sister, Gin, who supervised a lab at George Washington Hospital, said she could see and smell smoke from the Pentagon. I tried to talk her into leaving, but she said they were preparing the hospital for anything, including chemical weapon wounds, and that she was staying to help.

We said a prayer together for her and others.

When I called my editor at Bureau of National Affairs on 25th Street, near the State Department, he told me the streets near the office were closed and unless I was close by, to turn around and work from home. I felt like I was in a country where I'd covered conflicts in the past and not the United States, as I made a U-turn and headed back home. There, I heard of the third crash in Pennsylvania and watched television footage of the planes hitting the twin towers, feeling helpless as I watched rescue efforts.

The phrase in a book on terrorism that I'd read kept going through my mind: "We're saving the U.S. for last."

The next few weeks in the city were unreal — at times filled with soldiers on most corners who closed blocks to traffic when suspicious activities caused evacuations of the White House, the Capitol or the State Department.

I remember leaving work one day to attend a play at Ford's Theatre and ended up abandoning my car on 25th Street because military jeeps abruptly rolled up on sidewalks and started blocking off streets. Feeling tense, I walked to K Street, hoping I'd see a taxi. After being yelled at by soldiers to cross streets faster, even though I had the cast on, I finally arrived at the theater, feeling exhausted and stressed — only to find out that the play was delayed because of a different security scare.

There were many events like that 10 years ago, and I don't know anyone who has forgotten them or doesn't feel that 9/11 has changed their lives in some way. These days, I decline watching others' bags when traveling. Just this week, I called 9-1-1 — along with others police said, when a vehicle turned down a closed road — where road construction was underway, late at night.

Because of 9/11, when I fly, unless it causes me to miss my flight, I'm not bothered by the extra security at airports but get annoyed when Transportation Security Administration agents miss a fluid item in my baggage or are laughing and jiving around when I feel they should be more focused on the scanners. I'm just saying: That missed item could have been a terrorist's weapon of choice that day; and, unfortunately — considering the world we live in today — the extra security travel measures are necessary.

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