Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11 - Two Views

I remember the day - the sky was azure blue and not a cloud in the sky was to be seen. I remember thinking how gloriously beautiful it was that morning. I arrived at work and began sorting through a list of what I needed to accomplish that day. About 8:50, Peter called to tell me something horrible had happened, and to turn on the TV. The senior leadership at the hospital was in their weekly management meeting. I knocked on the door and told the hospital president that they should turn on the TV. Everyone was agast and what they were watching. Everyone couldn't take their eyes of the TV. It wasn't too long before the unthinkable happened - another plane had struck the Twin Towers. Minutes later, reports began to flood the airways that the Pentagon had been hit. Not long after that, an open field in Pennsylvania became mired in a piece of history it never wished to be a part of.

I watched as the entire hospital went into disaster mode. Not knowing what to expect from the casualties at the Pentagon, all hospitals in the area went on alert. Several times during the hours that followed the tragedy, senior and middle management met together to discuss contingency plans in the event we received overflow patients from the Virginia hospitals. Supplies were gathered from all over the hospital to send to the Virginia hospitals to help ease their situations. Hours later, it became apparent that those anticipated patients would not be coming over the bridge. The whole day began to seem surreal.

Living on the outskirts of Washington, DC has its privileges and its burdens. Immediately following this tragedy, while at work, I would see fighter jets circling the skies around Washington. This continued for weeks. One of our vice presidents was on vacation in Nevada. Planes were grounded for days. The only way he could come home was to rent a car and drive across the country.

Several days after 9-11, I ventured across the bridge to Virginia to bear witness of the tragedy that had unfolded. There was, on the Virginia side of the 14th Street Bridge, parked on the side of the road, an Army vehicle (a Howitzer, I believe), with military personnel manning the vehicle, the long and cold looking automatic weapons in the arms of these soldiers. Did I say this was in Virginia? How can this be? As I looked around, there were many military vehicles stationed in this general area of the Pentagon. I continued down the road, exiting at the entrance to Washington Boulevard, a road I had traveled numerous times when in Virginia. As I rounded the curve of the exit ramp, I could see the damaged to the Pentagon, and the damage inflicted on our country. It was inconceivable that the Pentagon had been hit by a commercial airliner. It was more inconceivable that our country had been terrorized by vengeful outsiders, who struck at the core of two of our more vibrant cities, and a town in Pennsylvania that never dreamed nor wanted its new found notoriety. It is a day that will never be forgotton. It is a day that never should be forgotton.

It was a very different day two years previously. A dear friend of mine lost her daughter, six weeks shy of her third birthday, from a brain tumor she had battled for more than 18 months. I saw this sweet little angel about five days before she died. She was in her house, in the family room, next to the kitchen, lying on the sofa, pretty much in a coma. My friend's parents and her in-laws were there, as were her husband and eldest daughter. Life goes on, and this family wanted to hold on to as much of her as they could in these last days of her life on earth. I dropped off dinner, talked to my friend for a few minutes, went over and carressed Amy's arm to say my goodbyes.

Each year as 9-11 approaches, my friend writes a letter to her close friends, asking us to stop by the cemetery to visit at Amy's gravesite. Each year when I get this letter, the tears well up in my eyes as I think how different their lives have been since they lost their precious daughter. Each year, I feel the pain of my friend who not only grieves for her daughter, but grieves for the nation as this double tragedy in her life happened on this same fateful day, two years apart. Tragedy has struck my friend again this year when she was diagnosed with a serious cancer, which she is fighting with all her might. She remembers the fight her daughter fought 10 years ago, and knowing she has a guardian angel watching over her, gives her the courage to fight for her own life now.

Let us never forget this day and remember those who were lost eight years ago. Say a little prayer for them, and say a little prayer for my friend.