For me, September 11, 2001 was a day of terror, stupidity, and kindness. It was as if an action movie had come to life, but nobody was following a script.
I was working at the U.S. House of Representatives that morning, in one of the House office buildings next to the Capitol. Meanwhile, Steve, a friend, was driving by the Pentagon, on his way to work. A chunk of the plane fell on his car; fortunately Steve wasn’t hurt, but he was badly shaken for months.
In D.C., I was having a meeting when the order came to evacuate, and the stupidity began. First, it was hard to exit the building because the doors were of the antique revolving kind – that look nice but weren’t functional in an emergency. The lobby was jammed with people who, one by one, pushed and waited, pushed and waited. I was grateful for the lack of hysteria.
In the panic, people were using the exits closest to the Capitol building, which we later learned was a possible target for the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Swarms of people milled around the Capitol, as if participants in a street festival with no festivities. Cell phones – useless, subway – closed. Nearby lunch spots did a brisk business, as people had nowhere else to go.
I had been meeting with a lawyer on a work matter; he suggested we walk to his law office to escape the gridlocked streets. If you wanted to get anywhere that day, you had to do it on foot. We arrived to a large buffet lunch – a spread for a client meeting that now wasn’t taking place. The lawyer sympathetically found me a desk and phone, so I could try to reach my husband and parents – landlines were more functional than cell phones at that moment.
The lawyer could not know that that particular desk would be the best place for me on that day of destruction and death. The regular occupant of the desk (who had left) had a bit of a poem tacked up next to her computer. It read:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
Ten years later, these lines may seem sentimental to some, but they had a powerful effect on me. And by a strange coincidence, they were once read by King George VI (the ‘King’s Speech’ king) during his 1939 Christmas address, as Britain was preparing for war.
In the intervening years, those revolving doors were scrapped for more functional ones, the Capitol Hill police devised evacuation drills that sent people away – not towards – the Capitol, the lawyer got a seat on the federal bench (bless him), and my husband and I moved to Delaware. And I am grateful to the hand of Providence who calmed my soul as I too stood at the gate of the year.