So we talked at dinner about 9/11 and it got a little bit emotional. Ellie wasn't alive yet, but my wife and I and our two young boys lived in Arlington VA. At the time, I worked in the tallest building in Arlington and I could see the Pentagon burning from my office window. We smelled the smoke for days. My brother had worked in New York’s World Trade Center for a Japanese bank and I spent a good part of the day thinking he was dead.
It was really a surreal & horrifying day for us. Even Stephen (who was then 2) was affected. He was home with Alison at the time, watching television newscasts endlessly show clips of the World Trade Center towers collapsing. I came home that morning after our building was evacuated, and I stepped into the living room and watched Stephen build a tower with his blocks and then knock it down and say, "Tower broken."
In the DC area, it was absolutely gorgeous that day. I had bought a tricycle for Stephen a few days earlier, but hadn't yet had the time to assemble it. So I went into our backyard and screwed the handlebars and wheels in place and then had Stephen try it out. After I was out for only a few minutes with Stephen, Alison came out on our deck and told us to go inside-- area newscasts were warning people in the area to stay inside to avoid the burning jet fuel fumes and smoke, which some people were saying had the potential to damage lungs. There were so many unfounded rumors going around town that day of other planes being highjacked, of other buildings getting hit. WTOP, the local news radio station briefly reported that the State Department was hit.
We lived less than a block away from our church. That evening, we went there to pray. Until we got outside, we hadn't realized everyone in the neighborhood was doing the same thing-- even those who didn't attend our church. Inside, the church was as packed as it would be for a normal Sunday service. The priests performed an unscheduled mass. So many of us thought we lost friends and family that day. So many of us feared more catastrophes in our near future. We all just had this spontaneous need to reach out and pray and for God's protection and blessing.
People I knew made small and large changes in their lives. My best friend decided to get a dog, a gorgeous golden retriever named Jack that brought comfort for many years to him and his wife. Other people moved out of the DC region and opted for less hectic lives elsewhere. I remember having horrible conversations with my wife, telling her that the moment she heard of any other terrorist tragedy in our region, she was to pack our boys in the car and drive off to my parents’ home in Arkansas. We stockpiled safe supplies of water and canned food in our house, loaded up on batteries and flashlights. Almost every day, for months, rumors spread of other terrorist plots. We read internet reports about what, exactly, a “dirty bomb” was and learned that if we covered our basement windows with plastic sheeting, we could survive such an attack. Or so it was thought.
Mostly though, we learned to live with anxiety as the constant force in our lives.