Early on the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was in the airport in Indianapolis, ready to fly back home to Chapel Hill. I was just months into my first-ever "real" job with the UNC Athletics Department, but had taken the opportunity to take a long-weekend trip to visit my friend, Stacy, who was doing an internship with the NCAA. I called the trip an early birthday gift to myself...
Our flight that morning was very early out of Indianapolis. I no longer remember its actual take-off time from IND, but it was early, maybe as early as 6a, because I had plans to go to work upon my return home that afternoon. My itinerary that morning had me laying over in Baltimore at BWI.
We landed safely and I was in the terminal when the coverage of the attacks began. The next several hours were a blur as the events unfolded. Obviously, all planes were grounded, and BWI was packed full of people far from their homes and loved ones in the midst of an unfathomable crisis in air travel. No one wanted to stay at that airport. But, really, did anyone want to leave, either?
Late that evening, after a full day at the airport, those of us that were stranded away from home were bused to local hotels with vacancies. They were hard to come by, and I ended up about 40 minutes north of the city. There were no rental cars available, and public transportation had pretty much shut down, as well. I had no choice but to hole-up in my hotel room and watch the news.
It was all so surreal. Did this really just happen to our country? While the coverage was devastating, I found myself starving for more. I couldn't stop watching. I think I was hoping, amidst all the tragedy and the mountains of evidence proving otherwise, that there would be a logical explanation. Some reasoning that would be easier for me to explain to my kids someday than the fact that some people hated our country so much that they killed thousands of people.
It never came.
I spent three days in that hotel room by myself, including my birthday (9/12). Each day, I would call the airlines to see if they had any news about when flights might resume. All of me wanted to get home. But part of me never wanted get on a plane again. Ultimately, I bought my first-ever bus ticket and spent about 10 hours riding home. Our route took us past the Pentagon, and I saw the damage first-hand as we rounded the bend. It was real. I was still in shock.
As I sit here and write this, my heart and stomach are in my throat. My hands are shaking, I'm shivering, remembering that day. I literally feel sick to my stomach. I did not personally know a single person that died in those attacks that day, and yet it affects me so.
8 years later, at this moment, I'm taking a break from all the "things" I have on my to-do list. Taking a break to pray. For those who were on those planes. Oh, the horror of their last minutes of life. For those in the buildings. I can't imagine the terror of trying to evacuate and not having anywhere to go. For those whose loved ones were lost. I know a day doesn't go by that you don't miss your family and friends terribly. For the servicemen and women who risk their lives every day to protect us. We are forever indebted to you. For our country. That we won't have to go through that pain again. And, lastly, for me, Dale, and all the other parents of young children who have no 9/11 memories of their own. That we will, when the time comes, find the words to appropriately and sufficiently explain to our kids what our world experienced on that fateful day.