Some days are ordinary. You wake up, feed the dogs, have coffee, get dressed and drive 6.7 miles to the office on Lake Hearn Dr.
That Tuesday was like the beginning of the end of summer. The high in Atlanta was 86*. It was a sunny day and a light breeze tickled if you were paying attention.
I got to the Cox Lake Hearn building around 8am. The Customer Care team was assigned offices on the 4th floor, 4 Center Back to be exact. I had a window view at my back. The door to my office spilled onto the dark paneled center back hallway. I was about 40 or 50 yards from the elevator and the emergency exit stairwell.
8:46am ~ The first crash occurs when Flight 11 slams into the north tower of New York's World Trade Center.
Shorty before 9am, Cindy Shope stood in the doorway of my office an announced very matter of fact, “A plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York”. I remember immediately responding with the only imaginable scenario.
“Did someone have a heart attack while flying a private plane?
“NO, it was a commercial flight, a passenger plane.”
Her serious tone now coupled with a sense of urgency. Just moments before, Cindy had seen the video footage on the bank of televisions on the 4th floor lobby. I immediately got up. We walked to the nearest TV and it was true, the pictures everywhere, every office and lobby television screen with an audience. Everyone stood still, quiet, watching, trying to understand, trying to process. I remember no one was talking.
9:03 a.m. ~ The second crash when Flight 175 flies into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
I immediately went back to my office to call my DAD. That was my first thought, I need to call my DAD and tell him I love him and ask if any bombs or planes have made their way to the Panama Canal. As much as I wanted the call to go through, there was a fast busy, all circuits jammed. I tried and tried.
Unable to reach my Dad, I walked to the 30 Person conference room on the 4th floor. The large rectangle room was right in the center of the building. It housed a very large dark wooden table with space for 30 people. There was a matching podium for presentations, AV equipment and a large credenza for set up of beverages and catering orders. The presentation screens in this room the size of the entire wall, like watching a movie in a private theatre.
I sat in the 30-person room for about two hours. I was by myself. I sat in a chair on the side of the room that was next to the interior wall. I held onto the bottom metal frame of the chair and shifted. I was nervous, anxious, and scared.
9:59a.m~ After burning for 56 minutes, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapses.
In that room alone, away from everyone else, I witnessed real time what millions of people witnessed all over the world, the towers collapsing. And what seemed hundreds of replays of the actual crashes.
It was incomprehensible. It was surreal. I was still, very still. The audio equipment in the room not on. I watched everything in complete silence, the horror of those moments on the large screen, magnified by my inability to process or associate any comprehension to the events.
At times I was nauseous and taking deep breaths to stay calm.
10:28a.m~ After burning for 102 minutes, the north tower of New York's World Trade Center collapses.
At some point, I did not want to be alone in the room anymore. I wanted to talk to my DAD, I wanted to be with other people. I wanted to know that I was not alone in the world.
I walked back to my office, via the central hallway and cut across to the back passing by the office of Rich Brehm, who worked in the marketing department. I knew Rich as a work colleague, he was friendly, easy going and always positive. I’d walked by his office hundreds of times, his presence was very familiar.
I remember stopping at his office. I remember standing at the doorway and without hesitation asking him for a hug. He got up and walked around his desk and we hugged. I know we exchanged some small talk that made it OK for us to hug, and especially for me to feel comfortable about my awkward request.
I am not sure if Rich remembers the hug. A decade plus later, I do.
Rich knew about the attacks.
Rich did not know I had been in the 30-person conference room in a trance like state for almost 2 hours trying to process the horror and reality of what I saw on the large screens.
Rich was extremely gracious in sharing the strength and comfort that can happen between two people at a time of confusion and pain.
His gesture was confirmation that the world as bad as it can get, always has the potential for good and for care and for compassion.
I was grateful that day. I will always be grateful to Rich for the hug.