“This probably isn’t the best time to pick up your business cards – have you heard about the terrorist attacks?”
September 11, 2001; 9:55 am. I had no idea what the Staples employee was talking about, but it didn’t sound good.
I had moved from Los Angeles to Washington DC on September 1 to be closer to my boyfriend. As a freelance writer, I needed new cards, and on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, I was feeling excited about picking them up and starting to pitch myself in my new environment.
The phone rang immediately. My boyfriend’s shaky voice was on the other end: “I came out of the doctor’s office, saw a plane flying really low, kind of swaying from side to side, down the Potomac, and then a huge explosion. I think it hit the Pentagon. Whatever’s going on, it’s not just happening in New York, it’s here too. I’m coming home — but not on the metro. I’ll be walking.”
Heading To The Red Cross On September 12
Next day, I headed downtown to the Red Cross Headquarters to donate blood. I remember that it seemed all wrong that it was a sunny, bright day. After making it through three security checkpoints, I stood waiting with several hundred people, all of us huddled together, strangers talking to strangers, trying to make sense of what had happened.
By the time I got inside the building, about two hours after my arrival, I had spoken to a couple from Argentina, a family from Israel, some local students from Howard University, and two elderly women from Alexandria, all of us driven by the same feeling of helplessness in the face of this horror, but pleased that we had found some way to reach out and help.
With my knowledge of Spanish, I helped a young couple from Madrid navigate their way around the lengthy forms we were handed; we even managed to laugh together, as my grasp of medical Spanish turned out to be pretty weak, so much gesturing was also involved.
Living In Washington Like Living In A War Zone
In the days that followed, living in Washington became like living in a war zone: helicopters buzzed overhead continuously, men in uniform patrolled the streets of downtown DC and demanded ID of all passersby, anyone who looked remotely Middle Eastern was the subject of intense suspicion and scrutiny, and after dark the streets became deserted.
But A Reason To Be Hopeful
But I took hope from the beautiful spirit of giving that I experienced while donating blood alongside my fellow human beings from around the world on September 12.
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