Saturday, June 19

Memories of September 11, 2001

O God! O God! that it were possible
To undo things done; to call back yesterday
That Time could turn up his swift sandy glass,
To untell the days, and to redeem these hours.

-- Thomas Heywood (1574?-1641), A Woman Killed with Kindness (Act 4, Sc. 6)

This Thursday, we are taking a break from the usual "Skeptics Collection" column to give an opportunity for all the blog writers to recall where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. The memories are as personal and as individual as those of the people who were actually there in New York City on that fateful and by-now-iconic day that did so much to mold American national policy and character in the ensuing days, months, and years. What are your memories of September 11? How did that day change you?

Ruth Jewell

On September 11, 2001 I am awakened by my husband calling me to get up and watch the morning news on TV, a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Confused, I call out, “How could they miss seeing that building?" As I run in the living room, I am just in time to see the second plane disappear into the building and a few moments later the first building collapses. John and I hear planes and we run out to the deck to see 3 fighter jets from Whidbey Island fly over, then two more. I turn back to the television to watch the confusion in New York and hear the news of the crashes in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. I stand there in my night clothes with tears running down my face in cold fear and with a sorrow so deep my heart feels like it will jump out of my chest. All I could do was stand there and watch, no words, no loud sobs only tears, grief, fear, sorrow, and anger.

Terri Stewart File photo of The World Trade Center south tower bursting into flames after being struck by hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 in New York City

My memory of 9/11 I awoke early that day. Nestled in the heart of the suburb-suburbs in the Pacific Northwest (further out than the suburbs, not far enough to be rural!). I woke to get Colin ready for kindergarten and Kennedy ready for school and then to fly out to the east coast (North Carolina) to play the piano at my brother’s wedding. I turned on the television to see that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center Towers in New York City. I watched, riveted. Wondering, what the heck? Then the second plane hit. The Pentagon. Pennsylvania. Whatever order it all came to as buildings tumbled down, questions were asked, people cried and screamed, and the most horror inflicting sight of all--people jumping from the top floors of the World Trade Center Towers and the news station circling their bodies with a marker and showing their plummet to the ground. Horrifying. But I still had to fly to NC! I was going to stand-in for my mother at the wedding. And I was going to play the Pathetique Sonata by Beethoven (well, the first movement only) at my brother’s wedding! This was freakin’ important! I packed, monitored the airline, no news. Got the kids off to school. Started driving to the airport allowing tons of extra time. A little terrified, a little determined. When I got two cities away from my home, it was announced that all of the flights in the US were cancelled. I turned around and went home. It was then that I cried.

Chrysty Hendrick

My husband and I moved to Seattle from Atlanta on August 1st 2001 and the culture shock hit both of us hard. He was already working for a telecommunications company and I was handling all the move details. We had been in our apartment a week when Mike woke me up by saying, "The World Trade Center just crashed and I have to go to work to support communications." I remember being really confused because buildings don't crash. Then it was just me alone all day watching the TV news reports while emptying boxes. Mike would continue to work long hours and I did not know anyone else closer than 1500 miles from us. It is difficult to describe the depth of the loneliness this created. It was as if the entire world was operating in hi-def 3D and I was stuck in snow-filled black and white. The horror of seeing the deaths displayed over and over again all week seeped into my soul. I was terrified for my sister in the military and my other sister who was due to deliver her second baby at Bethesda (the hospital treating all the Pentagon injuries). Try as I might I couldn't make the world make sense any more. Ultimately I had to get professional mental health help because the attacks on 9/11 had significantly altered my being. Slowly things began to change in me. I understood that everyone affected by that day, including me, are beloved children of God. My heart and my theology opened up like a lotus bloom. Everyone is loved on all sides of every event and every issue. The world IS crazy but love is stronger and longer lasting than that crazy ever will be.

Donna Pierce

September 11, 2001, was a school day. My husband, Larry, was already in the kitchen, getting breakfast for the kids, while I was still in bed, trying to shake off my morning stupor. The clock radio alarm went off. I pulled the pillow over my head, but the NPR news anchor’s words started sinking in, something about an attack on the Twin Towers. I leaped out of bed and ran down the hall, yelling, “Something terrible is happening in New York!” We turned on the television and gaped at the mayhem. Larry took the girls to school while I remained glued to the set. He returned just before the South tower crumbled before our eyes. We sat back, stunned, sickened, horrified.

At the time, I was starting a non-profit organization that distributed diapers and donated, gently used baby clothing, toys, and equipment to low-income families in south Seattle. The shelves were up, but the donations needed sorting before we opened for business, so Larry and I decided to head to the warehouse to do something community-oriented and helpful on that heartrending day. We brought a radio with us to keep up with the news in New York, but after an hour or two, we lost heart for our task and locked up shop.


After the FAA permitted flights again, I was shocked to discover that when I saw a plane fly across the sky, especially if its wings were tilted at the same angle as that of United Airlines Flight 175 when it struck the South Tower, I would panic and duck. This instinct lasted for months. Even today, though the flinch is gone, I rarely can see a plane in flight without remembering 9/11. I bear witness because I have no choice.

James R. Cowles

On Tuesday 10 September, two colleagues and I had flown from Seattle to the Boeing facility in Salt Lake City, UT. The next morning, I was getting ready to meet Robert and Tom for breakfast at our hotel's restaurant. I had the TV on in my hotel room ... apparently tuned to a made-for-TV movie about a fictional attack on the World Trade Center. I remember thinking that the studio that made the movie had one helluva special-effects team. I remember regretting that I had missed the beginning of what I thought was a political / military / Tom Clancy thriller. Then I saw the "CNN" logo to the bottom-right of the screen and recalled that I had been watching CNN, not a movie channel, when I turned the TV off the night before. So when I turned on the TV that morning, it was still tuned to CNN.  I was watching CNN -- the real CNN.  Then the realization washed over me that I was seeing an actual news story. The World Trade Center had actually been attacked.  Fiction became reality.


We did get our job done, off and on, that day, interspersing our meetings with time listening to the audio of the news reports that were being piped in over the office's intercom system, and watching real-time video on the large flat-screen TVs that had been set up all over the Salt Lake City office. News reports cut away from New York in order to include coverage of the Pentagon attack. Cityscape shots of Washington, DC, showed the plume from the Pentagon strike towering over southwest DC. There were rumors of a third plane going down somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. We saw the Towers fall, of course.  But before that, we saw people fall as many on the floors above where the planes had hit, realizing there was no hope of escape, chose to jump to their deaths rather than burn to death.  I guess I told myself that I was seeing pieces of the building crumbling off and falling.  And so I was, in many cases. But several close-up camera shots soon brutally gave the lie to that:  I was seeing people, in high-def video and in real time, committing suicide by jumping to their deaths. Those images haunt me still.

Crash site of United flight 93, near Shanksville, PA

By the end of the day on September 11, 2001, all flights to and within the US had been grounded, and commercial aircraft still airborne ran a serious risk of being shot down by American continental air defense. In fact, I also recall that the American air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) was extended 'way out over American coastal waters much farther than in peacetime. The Nation was at war.


  • I’m sorry I didn’t get my submission in on time. September 11, 2001 was a beautiful day in New York, with a clear blue sky that comes along once or twice in a lifetime. I watched the news from home with my two and a half year old and my 20 year old cousin. My husband, in the city for work, watched from 5th Ave. as the second building fell. The next day we drove a few blocks from our house in Queens and sat in silence as, in the distance, the smoke plume rose up into the sky that, just the day before had been the bluest of blues.

    • Colin doesn’t remember anything at all about this because we turned our televisions off. I didn’t think he needed that 24/7 news cycle since he was 5. For him, the reality is that he lives in this forever altered world of the Patriot Act and terrorists around every corner.

      I had friends who had this blasting on their tv’s continuously. One of the little ones, same age as Colin, began having panic attacks because of everything her parents were saying and broadcasting in the home.

      For me the challenge is living in the new reality without losing who I was and am.

      • That’s an interesting reaction … I mean the reaction you talk about re the TV blasting. That was Diane and me. Speaking only for myself, it was like, not content with having been exposed to the horror, I wanted to rub my nose in it, perhaps as some form of homeopathic psychotherapy, as if an Ebola dr in west Africa, not being content with having been exposed to Ebola, sprinkles some of the virus on his hot dog for lunch. With me, I think the overdoing it had to do with maintaining some kind of fig-leaf illusion of control, like if I could saturate myself with news about the WTC, Pentagon, Shanksville, etc., that the sheer volume of news would give me some measure of control over what was happening. But, of course, knowledge does not necessarily equal power. Knowledge equals knowledge, power equals power, and neither necessarily has anything at all to do with the other.

        • I think that if I had not had little ones in the house, I would have gone that direction. Viewing 24/7. But I didn’t want the kids to be mired in the horror. Plus, I remember, there was a PTA picnic scheduled for either the same day or the next day. We all decided that our act of defiance was to hold the picnic and to be community.

          • Yeah, I can well understand that. Diane and I don’t have kids, so we turned into news junkies, especially regarding terrorism, al-Qaeda, etc., etc. While I was still in SLC with my 2 colleagues, all the senior managers at the SLC facility called all-employee conferences to tell folks that, if they wanted to just bag it and go home, they could, with full pay. (Turns out there is a Boeing charge number for disasters, both natural and human-made: if a disaster is declared, you either may or must leave work, but with full pay. In a funny kind of way, Boeing is a pretty humane place to work. The Company even pays pro-rated overtime, plus an overtime premium, even for exempt employees. Every time I hear a Catholic bitching about Boeing needing to practice economic justice, I point out stuff like this and say “Go and do thou likewise”.) Robert, Tom, and I elected to keep working, given that Boeing was paying us for hotel, meals, car rental, etc. (Our rental car was how we got back to SEA when commercial flights were grounded.) But I said, in the meeting — I was pretty pissed off at the time, because I’d just come from seeing the Towers fall — “I’m gonna keep working because there ain’t no goddam goat-f**ker gonna tell me I can’t do my job”. Not exactly a moment of Zen-like advaita tranquility for me.

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