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14 Years Later


It has become a tradition for me to specifically post a 9/11 remembrance blog on this date.

This year, I decided not to re-read older posts before starting to write this one, just to see what still sticks in my memory. There is still a lot of detail that is vivid for me, but admittedly, some detail is fading.

I remember that it was a beautiful, sunny late-Summer morning in Cedar Rapids, IA on September 11, 2001. I was there on a work assignment that I viewed as a dream job, and I was planning a long-term move back to the U.S.  It was my three-month anniversary at work.

I left for the office a few minutes later than usual that morning which meant that I encountered traffic, although not the type of traffic you think of when you are living in Toronto.

On the road in, I can visualize myself in my brand-new sand-coloured Mazda Protégé, window down, in a line several cars deep, watching a train cross in front of me and onto a trestle over the Cedar River and into the Quaker Oats yard. Trains are long in Iowa and when they cross a road, they make you wait, a long time. That’s traffic in Iowa. I always found it fascinating how many of the train cars in Iowa were marked with the Alberta Wheat Board logo on them.  I remember that the air in Cedar Rapids that morning was thick with the smell of baked goods; and near Quaker Oats, it always smelled like Cap’n Crunch (my favourite cereal).

I was listening to the radio. There aren’t a huge number of redeeming features about living in Iowa, but the radio, well, Iowa radio is awesome. It is one of the things I miss most about living there.

In my drive to the office that day, there was no mention of a plane crashing into the World Trade Centre. It was still early and I was in a different time zone.

The first news arrived the second I walked into my office, which was just a few steps from the entrance to the parking garage. I could hear my phone ringing as I got to the door.  My husband was calling. He was in a panic. He worked for Merrill Lynch at the time on Front Street in Toronto. It was bad in New York. They were vacating all of Merrill Lynch’s offices.

He hung up and I started my computer. The Internet crashed. I remember that I kept refreshing the screen but all I could get is a single small picture on Yahoo of smoke coming out of a building. My office was ugly–grey walls and a brown desk and chair. I hadn’t been on assignment long enough to decorate. It felt bare and impersonal. I walked around and started asking questions. Our department coordinator had a radio. The songs were suddenly being interrupted by a steady stream of news updates.

I remember feeling puzzled, a sense of denial, thinking that a large plane purposely hitting a building was preposterous. A bad joke.

About 45 minutes later, I saw the second building fall on a television in the workout area of the health club on the main floor of our office building. I knew many of the people around me. Peter Jennings was speaking. We were all standing there in suits and ties, arms folded staring. I gasped.

After several hours of barely productive work, mostly phone calls to clients to cancel meetings, I was back at my apartment by early afternoon.

After that, I experienced many emotions, including separation, fear, indignance, sense of patriotism, the feeling of everything being disjointed, the feeling of being trapped, empathy, anger—these emotions lasted for days and weeks.  How come the hospitals were empty? Who are all these people on missing posters? How many people died? I didn’t know a soul that died but yet I cried daily for weeks. I put candles on the balcony of my apartment in remembrance of the four Merrill Lynch employees who were known to be dead.  For a long time, I fell asleep every night with the roar of a building collapsing in my head.  I find this strange because I doubt anyone who knows me would associate me with the warm/fuzzy/emotionally-out-there type of HR Professional. I’m not really someone who cries.  I might even argue I was personally impacted for years.  And I know I am not alone.

I found comfort in watching the aftermath on CBC, which came in on the TLC channel in Iowa for at least a week following 9-11.  Canada’s reporting seemed a bit more rational.  It helped, especially since there was nothing else on.

I made many decisions in the years following that I can directly attribute to 9-11—to gain a greater understanding of what drives the battle between the east and west, to be more active in my community, to focus on being a more thoughtful human being, to not let terrorism steal my sense of adventure or joy, to speak out against measures that limit our freedom, to enjoy being home, to be replete in my family life. When we find the gift in seeing what great things rise in the ashes of truly awful situations, we succeed.

Today, fourteen years later, what lingers is a resolve and a purpose that I hope will carry on from here.  We need to realize that there are other people in other parts of the world whose existence is torn apart by terrorism. They are hurting and they need us to remember what that violation feels like and how kindly most treated us as we recovered. Your mission, help people in need–regardless of faith or culture.  Remember that underlying it all, most people are good. The fortitude of good will triumph over evil. Always.


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