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Reflecting on 9/11: A Personal Narrative 22 Years On

As we mark the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it's worth pausing to remember that fateful day and reflect on how it transformed America and the world at large. My own experiences living in Washington, DC during the events provide a small but important window into the shared trauma and subsequent resilience that became defining aspects of the era.

Reflecting on 9/11: A Personal Narrative 22 Years On

September 11

We all felt vulnerable and shocked. The very foundations of our world shook, not just the physical buildings. And as much as we yearn to forget, we can't. And perhaps, we shouldn't. The day itself has passed into history, but the lessons it imparted are timeless—lessons about the fragility of human life, the extraordinary courage of ordinary people, and the enduring impact of collective trauma.

The Early Signs

A Sense of Unease Michelle's new condo in the Chandra Levy building felt like a sanctuary on that morning of September 11, 2001. The building itself was named after a woman who had mysteriously disappeared, a grim foreshadowing of the ominous events that would unfold. Michelle was unwell, and I was there as a friend, waking up beside her, caring for her. I got up, my feet touching the cool floor, walked to the kitchen, poured some water into a glass and gulped it down. I used the loo and took Suzi, our dog, out for a quick stroll.

Preparations for the Day

The Over-buyer When you're preparing a care package, especially for someone you care about, you tend to go all out. I walked Suzi up to P Street and popped into the convenience store, gathering an assortment of snacks, drinks, and medicines. My basket was soon filled to the brim—enough supplies to last Michelle a week under her comfy covers. I always have a tendency to over-buy, perhaps a manifestation of my protective nature or maybe a habit borne out of the fear of not having enough when it's most needed.

Disbelief on the Roads

The Communal Shock When I got back to my Jeep, I had a sense of normalcy that would soon be shattered. NPR's Morning Edition broke the news, reporting the unimaginable. Planes had crashed into both towers of the World Trade Center, a landmark I had been near just a month prior while visiting friends Anne and Ian in New York. As the radio hosts tried to make sense of what had happened, I found myself exchanging looks with other drivers. No one screamed; no one honked excessively; we just looked at each other. It was as if we were all silently asking, "Is this really happening?"

The Buzz in the Capital

Rumors and Apprehensions Washington, DC remained untouched, but it felt like a city holding its breath. The rumors were rampant. Michelle worked at the State Department, and word was spreading about a possible bomb threat there. My heart pounded against my ribcage as I thought about her safety and the perilous uncertainties of the moment. My grip tightened on the steering wheel; my knuckles turned white as I drove swiftly, but carefully, through Massachusetts Avenue.

The Earth-shattering Moment

The Pentagon Attack When I reached Lincoln Park, my heart stopped for a second as I heard a distant, muffled, but definitely alarming blast. My radio immediately reported a plane crashing into the Pentagon. My foot pushed down on the gas, propelling me toward home where Kate and Isa were and also toward the phone that would connect me to Michelle, whom I needed to confirm was okay.

The Grotto Revisited

A Temporary Haven Back at the Grotto, the atmosphere was electric with a mix of dread and anticipation. Kate and Isa were seated in front of the small 19-inch Sony TV. They told me my mom had called, concerned and seeking to ensure we were safe. I immediately called Michelle, urging her to pack some essentials. I was going back to get her, I told her. I needed to ensure she was safe, that we were all under one roof.

Gathering My Loved Ones

A Race Against Time Traffic was building up; military vehicles were becoming a common sight; the city was on high alert. Yet, when I reached Michelle's condo in Dupont, she was ready. She was ill, but she understood the gravity of the situation. I had reached there to collect her and Suzi—my family. We couldn't control what was happening outside, but we could try to keep our loved ones close.

Safe at Last

The Assemblage at the Grotto Back at the Grotto, Michelle joined Kate, Isa, Suzi, and me, completing our makeshift family in a time of crisis. Anita, our neighbor, and her friends were seeking solace in beers, attempting to alleviate the tension that had settled like a dark cloud. We were all crowded around the small TV, watching, horrified, as the towers collapsed. It was unimaginable, a surreal nightmare unfolding in front of our eyes.

The World Beyond

The Bigger Picture Amid this personal chaos, reports came in about United Airlines Flight 93. Intended to hit another significant location in DC, it had crashed in Pennsylvania. The passengers had fought back, a glimmer of human resilience amid a day filled with despair.

Slow Return to Normality

The Day After and Beyond Even a day later, as I drove to Target, it was clear that life as we knew it had changed. A fighter jet soared above me, enforcing the no-fly zone over the capital. The feeling of impending doom had not lifted, but the human spirit was on full display. Strangers were talking to each other, empathizing, offering comfort. In a world that had lost so much, we still had each other.

9/11 did not just happen to those directly affected; it happened to all of us. And today, 22 years later, we should remember those who lost their lives, those who saved lives, and those whose lives were irrevocably altered. For as long as we remember, the lessons of that terrible day continue to be our guide.

And that's my 9/11 story. I hope it serves as a testament to the complexity of human emotions and the resilience of the American spirit.


  • Chandra Levy Building: The real-life residence of Chandra Levy, a woman who mysteriously disappeared in 2001. The building is located at 1260 21st ST NW, Washington, DC.
  • Grotto: The name of Chris Abraham's basement apartment at 101 14th Street, SE, #1B, known for its mint green walls and social gatherings. Named humorously after Hugh Hefner's famous grotto.
  • Lincoln ParkLincoln Park is one of the largest urban parks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., located between East Capitol Street NE to the north, 11th Street SE to the west, 13th Street SE to the east, and East Capitol Street SE to the south.
  • Over-buyer: Describes Chris Abraham's tendency to purchase more items than necessary, often due to a sense of protectiveness or fear of scarcity.
  • P Street: A street in Washington, DC, where a convenience store is located.
  • Pentagon Attack: Refers to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Sep 11, 2023 08:30 AM