Exactly 8 years ago today, at almost this very same minute, I was sitting in a class at law school. I was 10 weeks pregnant and doing my best to pay attention to the professor despite my utter exhaustion and a touch of nausea.
My classmate, we'll call her Jen, sitting next to me, was doing an even worse job of paying attention than I was. She had her laptop with her that day and had apparently paid the school for the coveted wireless internet access (being a broke-ass student and since hard-wired service was free throughout the school, except in the classrooms, I had not opted for the service although I did have the required laptop). So there Jen sat, checking the news and whatever else. Occasionally, I would glance at her screen and it was during one of these glances I saw a picture of what appeared to be a plane sticking out of the upper floors of one of the Twin Towers. Having grown up in Jersey I could spot those buildings anywhere. My first thought was of an accident, a pilot with a heart attack perhaps, or some other unfortunate twist of fate.
Within moments a murmur arose in the classroom - Jen wasn't the only one goofing off on the internet it seemed. And moments after that I grabbed my stuff and excused myself. My brother worked in those Towers, although I couldn't remember which one, and I needed to get home and call NJ to see if there was any word (a cell phone was another 'luxury' I did without back in those days). I learned later that classes for the day were cancelled just shortly after I had left the building.
I lived less than a half-mile away and as soon as I walked in the door I turned on the TV and picked up the phone. While dialing my brother's home number, I watched as the second plane hit the second Tower. Time stopped as the phone hit the living room floor. I knew then, immediately, that this was no accident, no unfortunate twist of fate. This was a vicious act of terror and destruction. And as the tears welled in my eyes, and the off the hook tone rang through my tiny basement apartment, I hoped against hope that my little brother wasn't at work that day.
I woke my husband, who was sleeping in on his day off, and the two of us sat there blindly staring at the television, steaming cups of coffee going undrunk on the coffee table, as we tried again and again, unsuccessfully, to get through to someone, anyone, who could tell us my brother was alright. I knew phone service had been knocked out for much of the tri-state region during the last attack on the Towers several years earlier, but I had to try.
The rest of that day passed in a blur. At some point we went over to my mom's, who lived on the other side of town, having moved to VA a decade earlier from NJ, met there by my aunt, my sister, and my other brother. I don't remember where I was when the Towers fell, but I remember seeing it all on the TV and thinking that I had lost my brother for sure.
Several hours later a wave of relief washed over us all when we received a call from my sister-in-law telling us that my brother had made it out alive. It took him another 6 hours or so to get home to his family, but he was not in the buildings when they fell. He was alive. Witness to horrors many of us can scarcely imagine, but alive. And on his way home.
That day, my brother was spared. My family was spared. His sons would grow up with a father, my mother would not have to face the loss of a child, and I would not have to learn what it was like to lose a sibling. I remember feeling as though I had been touched by grace. Three months later, however, I had to live through a different loss. One that shook me to my core and, I think, changed the course of my very existence. But that, perhaps, is a story best left for another day.
Because today I remember September 11. I remember how lucky I am to still have my brother. I remember all those families that weren't as lucky as mine. I remember the bravery of the men and women who rushed into the Towers that day against all odds to save what lives they could at risk to their own. I remember the people who worked on the pile in the days and months following, many of whom today suffer terribly today as a result of that experience. And I remember that life is fleeting and so every day we should give thanks and cherish one another. I remember.