When the news broke last week that Osama bin Laden was dead, it was hard for me not to reflect upon my own generation’s “where were you?” moment. And the answer is that on September 11, 2001, my nine-month pregnant self was at work in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
It was a crisp fall day. I remember the sky being a vivid blue when I opened my eyes after the 40-minute nap I routinely took in the car on the commute into the city. (Did you catch that I was nine months pregnant?) I remember driving (well, riding) on D Street, NE, approaching 2nd Street, heading to the Hart Senate Office Building where my now ex-husband used to drop me off because the lines weren’t as long there as they usually were at the doors to my own building. As always, that morning I lamented the end of the nap, and this particular morning, I marveled on the perfection of the weather.
By the time I got to my desk, I was greeted with a chorus of “oh my god, did you hears” as the first WTC tower had just been hit. We all promptly congregated in one office (mine) to follow the live coverage on CNN. We had no idea that we were watching the worst terrorist attack on American soil occur. But then that second plane hit and reality quickly sank in.
We were numb. Our first reaction was “back to business as usual” but then there were smoke plumes reported at the Pentagon, mysterious reports of car bombs at the State Department, the internal “hotline” announced evacuation of the Senate complex, and my contractions were coming on strong, albeit erratically, every 5-9 minutes. As my colleagues and I were about to leave our suite, my ex bounded in, and we made an executive decision that retrieving our car, three floors under in the parking garage of the Rayburn House Office Building, made us sitting ducks since we didn’t know if there were other planes headed for more DC destinations. With uncharacteristic calm we quickly reached a unanimous decision.
Brigid lived on the Hill, but far enough away from the epicenter that we figured if a plane was heading for the Capitol, we would not be in the carnage. Again, in retrospect I marvel at our relatively detached demeanor in such a tense moment. After 16 or so tries on my cell, walking as we speed dialed, we finally reached Brigid and got the green light to head to her place. As I lumbered from the Senate-side to the House-side, past Eastern Market, I pleaded with my baby to stay put and not be born on this terrible day. I also hoped that at Brig’s there would be space for an enormous pregnant woman to sit down.
We made it to Brigid’s. I was given a seat on the couch. And history unfolded before our eyes. I found out later that the 25 Hill staffers crammed into her tiny apartment secretly took bets on whether I’d go into labor. The contractions stopped (adrenaline suppresses pitocin) but the day perpetually plays in my mind, like the black and white films that run on a loop at Ted’s Bulletin. As we all know now, there was indeed a fourth plane. And to this day, I believe that plane was destined for the U.S. Capitol. The passengers of United Flight 93 saved not only my life, but the life of my unborn son.
Four days later, with a newborn in my arms, I wondered what kind of world awaited him. As I have grown to begrudgingly accept over the years, I can’t protect him from everything, and for this reason, I applauded the President’s decision not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body. My kid reads the paper. He has an email account. He is observant. Had that photo been released, he would have eventually seen it. The greatest generation didn’t need to see pictures of Hitler’s charred body to believe he was dead, but my child is growing up in a YouTube world that has to see, hear or google everything to believe it. As for me, even though I loved 24 with its crazily unrealistic conspiracies, I’m going to take the Administration’s word for it on this one.
While I can’t say I have closure on 9-11 or feel that the world is a safer place, at least the success of this mission reaffirmed for me that sometimes, the good guys still win. And that’s the kind of world I want for my sons.