I wrestled for days about what to post on the blog as our country approaches the 10 year anniversary of the attacks of 9.11.01. Then, my friend Jennifer McClanahan, of www.Foodonourtable.com, shared her story of being in New York on this day and the commitment she made to, “…build a full life of my own.” As I read her account of her experience on 9.11.01, I knew, “this is the piece to share.” I hope you’ll find as much inspiration from her experience as I have. Thank you Jennifer for sharing with us.
September 11, 2001
By Jennifer McClanahan
Those close to me don’t ever mention my great memory because my memory lasts about as long as a roasted marshmallow in the hands of a five year old. My standard answer to “Remember the time we…” is “what time?”
It is not the same with September 11, 2001. Like most people, I have vivid memories of bits and pieces of that day.
I called my mother and woke her up. I was on my way to the main office of a New York based law firm that I worked for at that time. It was in Times Square and I walked by the ABC News studio as Christian Spencer was preparing for one of his weather segments on Good Morning America. Wiggling and side-sliding my way to the front, I fished my phone out of my bag and called my mom to make sure she was watching. I forgot that it was on 5:30 am in California and when she picked up the phone she sleepily reminded me. Until then, she didn’t even know I was in New York; she was confused but promised to stay awake to catch my 30 seconds of fame on TV. She was wide awake when the terror of that day started.
My next flash of memory is sitting in a conference room around the table with my colleagues. The conference room faced south and gave a spectacular view of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It was a beautifully clear day in the city. As the meeting was getting underway, Paula, who was always so aware of her immediate surroundings, gasped loudly and pointed towards the World Trade Center. I raised my head to see the clear outline of a plane in the middle of the North Tower. The hole was almost perfectly centered with the wing span defined within the structure of one of the towers. As we tried to take it in, we thought it had to be an accident and since we were several miles away thought that the size of the hole must have been distorted. We tried to get back to the meeting but our eyes kept being drawn to the hole in the Tower. I looked up and saw the second plane hit the South Tower.
It wasn’t an accident.
My stomach twisted, my body tingled and I felt my heart burn in my chest. When I looked around the conference room was full and we were all standing and staring at the two Towers as smoke streamed out towards the heavens. It seemed that every New Yorker in that room knew someone working at the Trade Center. Wives called their husbands, brothers called their brothers and parents tried to reach their children. I have never felt so badly about my good fortune – I didn’t know anyone in those towers.
In my characteristic style, I got busy. I called my mother who was watching in horror and had no idea how close I was to the World Trade Center. I called my sister who lives in Brooklyn and then called my mom to tell her she was fine. Many of us were scheduled to return home that day so I checked the airlines and reserved hotel rooms. I called into the office in Palo Alto and told them to close for the day. People quickly realized that my cell phone, with its California area code, was one of the few working. I gave it to those trying to reach loved ones within the city and beyond.
I was out of tasks and looked back at the flames and smoke as they continued to roll out of both buildings. It was worse not better. I watched as the hope and optimism in the room collapsed along with the South Tower. The spiritual essence of everyone in that conference room fell along with that first tower. We knew the second one would come down as well. Someone said, “Who could survive that?”
It was quiet.
I tried to console the man whose son attended preschool just down the street from the trade center. I really just listened. My next clear memory was of Pat’s brother walking into the conference room as a grayish apparition. He walked through ash, dust, debris and horror and straight into the arms of his brother. It was the first breathe of hope for those of us who thought that no one could have possible survived the destruction of the Twin Towers.
I don’t remember eating.
The clearest memory of that day was of me sitting quietly alone in my hotel room. I had called everyone I had to call and there I sat alone, watching the TV and waiting for a miracle. No family, no boyfriend, just a job with endless hours that had led me to this lonely moment. As I reflected, it wasn’t that my life was bad, it just wasn’t full. In that moment, I knew it would be the last world tragedy that I would live through alone.
My tribute to the rescuers, those that lost their lives and to their families was to build a full life of my own. I was one of the few lucky people in the conference room that day, I got a chance to start fresh. I didn’t have to live through the pain of starting over. The pain of those people on that day and the anguish that followed, taught me to value my life. Now I don’t just value it, I invest in having a great life. It is a big part of why I cherish my family and why I think sitting down and spending time with them is one of the most important things I can do with my time.
On September 11, 2011, my family and I will spend the day together. Honoring one another and honoring our lives.
About Jennifer McClanahan
Jennifer is a working mom who loves family, cooking and all things food. She helps other busy moms create a real work-life balance that brings both personal and professional satisfaction and fulfillment. She believes that sharing meals as a family is the cornerstone to the physical and emotional well-being of school-age children and that working moms have the power to build a career that gives them time to enjoy their families. To learn more about Jennifer and to get her free guide to quick and easy grocery shopping visit her at www.foodonourtable.com.