Like many Americans, today is always a difficult day for me. I was in Columbus when it happened, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. For me, 9/11 shaped how the past 6 years of my life have turned out...
Tiffany lived in NYC when the buildings were hit. I was calling her all day, until finally I got a hold of her mom and she said Tiff was fine and she was on her way home. The ad agency in which I worked allowed all of us to go home that morning, and for the next 12 hours I could not rip myself away from the TV. It was at this point that I first thought "I have to be there."
Tiff got home that night. We had our 5 year high school class reunion on Sept 15th--which still took place. As my group of friends were talking, Tiff made the comment about how she didn't know how she was going to get back to NYC, since the airports were closed. She talked about taking the train, or a bus. I blurted out "I'll drive you." And my friend Michele, who was feeling much like I was, said, "I'll come too."
So on Sept. 16, the 3 of us packed my car and drove 10 hours back to New York. I took a week off work, not caring if they would fire me (my boss was so cool though...she understood this was something I HAD to do). My mom freaked out "Maggie they don't NEED you in New York, they have enough volunteers, you will be in the way." (In other words, "Maggie, I am scared to death about you going to New York.) My dad supported her publicly...but would secretly pull me aside and say he wished he could come with me.
We arrived to New Jersey, and had to park at the Newark Airport because all of the bridges into the city were still closed. It was in Jersey that we began to see the missing pictures of the people that were still not accounted for (a vast majority) that covered every wall in the city. At the point the buildings were still on fire, and the smell is something I will never forget. It was a combination of burning metal, paper...and people.
Over the next few days we did a lot of tough stuff. We went to the Armory, where families were waiting to hear any news (it is where they were bringing any bodies or remains) we went to candlelight vigils, a Marshall McClellan memorial service, and a hospital to donate stuff that people sent with us. We watched the fire fighters come out of the wreckage after their 12 hour shifts, covered in ashes, their faces telling the whole horrific story without them having to speak a word. It was easily the worst experience of my life, but at the same time one of the best. New York was a different city. People were looking each other in the eyes, they were helping one another, they slowed down to give each other hugs--perfect strangers. Everyone was so obviously thankful that they were alive, that the feeling of the city was surely one of fear and confusion, but above all it was compassion and love--for each other and for our country.
It was probably our 4th night there when Tiffany got a strong sense of New Yorker pride (after all she'd been living there for about a year by this point) and she said "We are going out tonight--we are not letting them control us, we are not letting them control our economy, we are going out in this city. THE BEST CITY IN THE WORLD."
So we did. And that is the night I met Leslie.
The rest of the story plays out with us falling in love, getting married, moving to Atlanta, then to Salt Lake--soccer being the focus of our lives. Then the marriage started falling apart, and I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life...so I decide to start running far and fast around the world, which brings me to where I am today.
Tiffany has somehow been an anchor in every major change in my life. If she had not dragged us out that night, I would not have met Leslie, if I had not met Les, I would have not learned all that I have learned over the past 6 years, and would not have gone on my trip. (At least not in they way I did). Sometimes it takes major life changing events to serves as a catalyst for making the changes you want...or NEED to make.
The same goes for Tiff. She was flying through the ranks at Kate Spade. No one from OU gets a job at Kate Spade right out of college, it's all Fashion Institute people...but Tiffany did. She was on the fast track to high powered success. Then 9/11 happens. And when you are faced with your own mortality...when you see that it can all end in a split second, you begin to evaluate what is REALLY important. And like Tiffany, I think most of us would find that it isn't power, money, status, career, or any material things. She did some reevaluating of what she really wants out of life, and has since been studying yoga, traveling the world and trying to live each day with purpose.
So had 9/11 not happened, Tiff likely would not have been living in Thailand, or be on this big world tour. And if she wasn't I don't know if I would have made these plans by myself. I'd like to think I am that brave...but when I planned the trip, most of it was supposed to be with her.
Tiffany and I are just some of many, many stories about how September 11th has caused very direct or indirect changes in our lives. But there is one thing for sure--it has changed all of us in some way, because it has changed America forever. And each time you go through airport security you remember what happened, and why you have to strip down in public. We were attacked. On our own soil. In our most famous city. With our own airplanes.
9/11 has changed us forever. My prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims.
We will never forget.