A Beautiful, Late Summer Day

Sept. 1, 2011
Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. ~ James Thurber

The East Coast experienced an earthquake yesterday afternoon. My West Coast friends still are laughing at the reaction of so many on the “right” coast. The quake ranged from a pretty good shake and some damage near the center in Virginia, to a slight double-dip roll here in the Midwest. People evacuated buildings and clustered on sidewalks, waiting for the next shoe to drop (a tsunami, maybe?).

I was in Los Angeles approximately 12 years ago when the area experienced an earthquake. As things fell off tables and I was knocked out of bed, I could understand why earthquakes are so terrifying; there’s no warning and probably no really good place to seek shelter. I know some people say take shelter in the bathtub and some say stand in a doorway, but in my panic, all I could do was roll under the bed and pray. It was over soon enough and no one was hurt.

Had that earthquake in California occurred after 9/11, my reaction would have been very, very different. Rather than my first thought being “EARTHQUAKE!,” it might have been “BOMB!”

In fact, many people who experienced yesterday’s earthquake, especially friends in the Washington, D.C. area, said their first thought was “Here we go again.”

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 draws near, we all find ourselves remembering where we were that day, what we were doing and whom we were with.

I was on the phone with a college friend in New York. I was working from home, so I was sitting on my front porch enjoying a cup of coffee on a perfect late-summer morning. (My memories of that day are so strong I can almost smell that coffee.) She was waiting for another of our friends to show up at her apartment, so that they could visit the observation deck of the south tower of the World Trade Center, which wouldn’t open for another hour or so. Her boyfriend, who worked in the north tower, had left for Asia that morning on business.

Suddenly, she said, “Turn on your TV. I think a plane just hit the World Trade Center!”

In the days and months and years that followed, things changed. I became a little wary of the mail as reports of anthrax spread. To this day, I look at mail from unknown senders a little suspiciously. When the August 2003 blackout occurred, leaving much of the Midwest and Northeast without power for days, I think most people thought it was an act of terrorism.

Even now, in 2011, a small earthquake can make me think of bombs, fellow business travelers make me suspicious and my tolerance for odd behavior on airplanes is nil. (Presumably) empty bags or boxes left in public places can make the hair on the back of my neck rise. When I hear of planes crashing, I don’t think of mechanical failures or pilot error, I think of terrorism, and I’ve gone from a completely relaxed traveler to a short-tempered, vigilant one.

Before 9/11, fire drills at work were poorly attended; half the employees would remain at their desks. Now, our building management holds emergency evacuation drills every few months that are taken seriously by 95 percent of the building’s occupants. I know my designated emergency route out of the city – whether by car or by walking – and hope that everyone else does as well. The government remains at a heightened level of vigilance as the anniversary approaches, reminding us that we are not out of danger.

September 11, 2001, changed the way I live my life. Many of you shared your 9/11 experiences with us, and we’ve included them – and the ways 9/11 changed you, your workplaces and your lives forever – in a special section that starts on page 24.

I am different now. We are different now.

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