September 11, 2011

My 9/11

A beautiful Tuesday morning, so I took my time walking to the office, in the old B'nai B'rith Building on Rhode Island Avenue, barely a ten-minute walk from the White House. As I approached the entrance, a mid-level colleague was rushing out of the building, talking like the world was ending. Planes had hit the World Trade Center, and other wild tales, and she was fleeing back to the Maryland suburbs.

I went upstairs to my office, got online and turned on the TV. Wow. When I saw that TWO planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, I instinctively listened for the sound of fighter jets over Washington, DC, since clearly the nation's capital would be a target. But nothing outside.

I called a few of our partners in Russia and Ukraine, to make sure those Jewish communities were not affected, and to let them know we were still available to them.

After some minutes, the wife of another colleague called looking for him, and she wanted to know why I was still even in the building. She said Jewish buildings were obvious targets. I replied, "I wouldn't worry. The Jewish buildings are the soft targets. They got the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, they may be after the Capitol and the State Department for all I know. And NOW you think they're going to hit the B'nai B'rith Building..?"

 A few minutes later, one of the security guards stopped in to tell me they were going to close the building. I sent off an email to our Board of Directors, letting them know our offices were closing and reminding them of our cell phone numbers. I backed up files and packed some papers I'd need to work from home.

When I finally left the building, I walked back toward my apartment, past gridlocked traffic -- people like my colleagues returning to be with their families. Along the few blocks, I stopped at an ATM to get cash, in case the terrorists were going to take down our banking system. I picked up a suit from the dry cleaners, and some milk (I had already developed lactose-intolerance, but it seemed like something to do).

When I got home, I turned on CNN. I went up to the roof of my building to watch the smoke billowing from the Pentagon a few miles away. By the afternoon, military Humvees were on street corners, and the fighter jets could finally be heard, clearing he sky before the President's helicopter brought him back the White House. I walked over to The Washington Post, where managerial types were on the street handing out a rare afternoon edition.

As soon as I could, I drove up to New York to visit friends, and I as I crossed the George Washington Bridge I saw the missing skyline for myself. A while later, I was leaving the State Department when I saw a plane taking off from National Airport -- the first commercial flight I'd seen in weeks.

Less than a month before the awful day, I had flown to New York for some reason, and as the plane passed by downtown, along the Hudson River, I watched the Twin Towers all lit up and felt like I could reach out an touch them -- and they were awesome. At that moment, as always, I remembered how my father and I had found our way to the rooftop, probably in 1972, before they had opened to the public.

Ten years later, my life has changed in many ways. Among other changes, I now work one block from Ground Zero. I was down there the morning after Osama Bin Laden was killed, and I was there the Friday before this tenth anniversary of 9/11, after the announcement of a "specific, credible and unconfirmed threat." Somehow, it doesn't feel so dangerous down there. But then, it never did.

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