As a counter-point to the many personal tragedies that happened on 9/11/01, here is marvelous story written by a woman who was in her car very close to the Pentagon when it was hit by a plane. - Al Siebert
Out of Tragedy, Love*
By Jennifer Linney
Conversations at dinner parties, lunches with co-workers, and even a picnic at Wolf Trap have fallen silent many times since Sept. 11, 2001. The culprit? My husband's or my response to the inevitable question, "How did you two meet?"
Friends who know the story sit back in their seats to listen. Others leave conversations half-finished and lean in or move closer as if the question is one they had wanted to ask themselves but didn't for fear that I would crumble before them. The person who asked the question looks on, unaware.
"We met on September 11, 2001," I say.
Silence. Our companions seem to consider which circumstances that day could have drawn Jim and me together. A second or two goes by. I relive for them my experience on that fateful day in Northern Virginia.
Traffic is bunched up on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon. I turn on the car radio to listen for a traffic report. The airwaves are somber; the usual, raucous, early morning DJ banter is missing. I hear instead reports of the attacks on the World Trade Center. I call my sister, who lives and works on eastern Long Island, on my cell phone. "They say it was a hijacking," she says.
A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon. Minutes-maybe seconds-later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion shakes my car and shatters or pops out the windows of cars nearby. I jump. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I can't stop trembling. A massive fireball mushrooms over the Pentagon. Smoke spews from the crash site. The smell-burning fuel mixed with death-is everywhere. I cry and clamp my hand over my mouth.
"What the hell was that?" a man one car over asks.
"A jet," I answer. "Hijacked. Like New York."
I am hysterical, desperate to get away, but traffic is at a standstill. Will the roadways be the next targets? Hundred of motorists are corralled on Route 27 and I-395 with nowhere to go. I don't want to be here. People stream out of the Pentagon. I expect to see horror, hysteria, and fear on their faces. But they look calm. I scan the faces of nearby commuters. They look unfazed, as if they are enduring just another long drive to work.
Somber DJs and radio newscasters report the "explosion" at the Pentagon. I look for an escape route. The ramp to the Pentagon's north parking lot is blocked. I cannot use it to reach Route 110. Sirens wail in the distance. I can't get a signal on my cell phone. An SUV in front of me herky-jerks its way across the grass median. I turn my steering wheel to follow. Traffic loosens ahead. A police officer directs drivers to the roundabout before the Memorial Bridge. I straighten my car's path and follow, winding my way to Route 1 in Crystal City, Virginia.
More traffic. I eye the office buildings that tower alongside the highway and warily watch the sky. A loud noise. What was that? Another strike? An explosion? Something at the Pentagon crash site has caught fire, the radio news reports.
I make it home hours later. My suburban neighborhood seems so serene, so far-removed from a world where airliners fly into buildings or fall from the sky. I leave the TV and radio off. Eleven months will pass before I finally let myself watch video clips or see photos of people plunging to their deaths from the burning World Trade Center. I sit dazed on the porch swing with my dog. I'll sell my condo, I think, move to Colorado or New Mexico. Maybe Washington.
A man who recently bought a condo unit two floors below mine, drives into a parking spot. Jim and I have met only in passing; my dog-a welcome wagon at the end of a leash-had pulled me over to him. Jim steps out of his SUV, clasps his hands behind his head and stares at the sky for a minute or so. He starts up the sidewalk and glances up at my porch. I stand at the railing with my chin in my hands and manage a weak hello.
"Are you OK?" he asks.
"Kind of." I wasn't really.
"Do you need anything? Would you like some company?" He squints in the sunlight.
We spend four hours together that day. I cower when the noise of a passing jet rumbles overhead. "Just a military jet patrolling the skies," Jim assures me. He and I had our first date a week later and fell hard for each other, instantly and fearlessly.
September 11 forced us to take chances, to live and to love each other. Had the horror of that day never happened, we may have eventually worked up the courage to date, and we may have discovered the love that we now share. But we may have also let love pass us by. September 11 compelled us to take a chance-and taught many people that every day is precious.
Jim and I were married in 2003 and now have a young son. We are so very happy together. When we think of September 11, we have heartfelt sadness for those who died and lost loved ones, but we also feel a renewed sense of appreciation for the treasures that we have, and can have, in our lives. The tragedy reminds us that life must be lived and that love and hope can rise from tragedy.
*Adapted from an article first published in The Washington Post, September 5, 2002.