What He Saw / How I Felt

My husband saw this happen. From the building he was in in the Financial District, he watched the second plane hit 2 WTC, the World Trade Center South. And I was on the phone with him.

The day for him started out like any other work day. He was staying at the Embassy Suites World Financial Center, and had to walk past the World Trade Centers to get to the building where he was working, which was a couple of blocks past the WTC buildings. Since he arrived at work around 9:00am that day, he had passed under the buildings only moments before the impacts occurred. That freaks me out.

Freak out number two:

He had gone to the WTC on Sept 10 with hopes of going to the observatory deck at the top of the building. He arrived too late in the day to be able to go up, but was able to get the pass he needed to go up the next day.

Thank God he was running late on the 11th and didn’t have time to go up before work. Really, truly, I thank God for that.

At that time, I was in Arkansas visiting my family with my then 8 month-old son. I received my morning phone call from Hubs, just as he always did when he traveled. He called to say good morning to us, asking how the baby was. As we were talking, he casually mentioned that there were bits of paper swirling around outside his 29th story window. I thought maybe some sort of ticker-tape parade was happening on the street below. (???) Then he overheard someone say that the top of the WTC was smoking so he asked me to turn on CNN to see if they were talking about it. Of course they were, but at the time, it was being reported that a Cessna had accidentally crashed into the building. I had to tend to the baby and he wanted to go to the window to get a better look, so I got off the phone with him.

While I was in the other room, my phone rang again and this time, he was freaking out. He just watched the second plane hit, and because he was in a skyscraper only blocks away, he knew the building he was in would soon be evacuated. They were, and that’s when we lost our cell phone connection.

I watched the horror unfold from the comfort of my grandparent’s living room and I knew that no other buildings in Manhattan were hit, yet still, I was scared for my husband’s safety. I knew that people were being evacuated to the north, and my husband was located south of the WTC’s, so all I could do was hope and pray that he would be safely herded around the chaos. Time seemed to stand still in my haze of tears and fears, but I estimate that it was about 6 hours later that I finally heard from him. He had made it to a coworker’s hotel room in Chinatown, and told me that he was covered in grey ash and all he wanted to do was take a shower. He was in shock, but at least I knew he was safe, so I had an element of peace about me that allowed me to take care of our son without falling apart.

The full extent of the ramifications of the events of September 11 weren’t fully recognized that day. Or even the next. Ten years later, I still don’t think we understand why.

How that kind of hate can possess a person – multiple people – to plot and plan for years the death of a multitude of innocent people.

How over the course of years of planning death on a massive scale, a person – multiple people – have a myriad of opportunities to reconsider and yet do not.

How a person – multiple people – trained to Protect and Serve, willingly enter burning buildings to see if there is anyone who can be saved.

How a person – multiple people – even after being told that Ground Zero is filled with toxic fumes and hazardous to their health, go anyway to search for survivors.

None of those things make sense to me. On that day, the depth of passion displayed was on opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil. Abhorrent and admirable co-existed. However, the hate-fueled zeal ended in death and destruction, while the love-fueled altruism ended in triumph.

When I think of 9/11, I rarely focus solely on the destruction. Death isn’t the only news-worthy thing that happened that day.

According to Wikipedia, citing a book called 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn,
At the time of the attacks, media reports suggested that tens of thousands might have been killed, as on any given day upwards of 100,000 people could be inside the towers. Estimates of the number of people in the Twin Towers when attacked on September 11, 2001 range between 14,000 and 19,000. NIST estimated that approximately 17,400 civilians were in the World Trade Center complex at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks.[8] Turnstile counts from the Port Authority indicate that the number of people typically in the Twin Towers by 8:45 a.m. was 14,154.  Shockingly, only 2,606 people in the towers and on the ground were killed. That is worth noting.

The countless lives saved because of the rescue efforts of brave public servants should be celebrated.

The men who rushed the cockpit and brought down Flight 93 in a field instead of its intended target should be remembered.

Bad things have happened, are happening, and will happen in the future. You can choose to dwell on that or you can choose to look for the good to be found in and amongst the bad. We live in a fallen world, but God is still and forever God.

It reminds me of one of my favorite bible verses about God’s ability to replace our bad with His good. Isaiah 61:3 says that for those who mourn, God will replace ashes, mourning, and despair with beauty, joy, and praise. He will do it, but we must choose to seek Him in order to be able to see it in our own lives.

Thank God that the story didn’t end on September 11, 2001. Thank God we as a nation weren’t frozen in time. Our nation wasn’t destroyed. Our citizens weren’t frightened into never leaving their houses again. No other attempts by terrorists to kill innocent Americans in our homeland have succeeded. America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Every day is an opportunity to make the best of what we have instead of revel in despair. We can rebuild instead of staring at a pile of ashes. We can look toward the future with hope instead of fear. We can choose to be thankful for what we do have instead of mourn for what is lost.

I choose to be thankful that my husband is alive. I choose to recognize that the number of people who survived that day is greater than the number who perished. I choose to see that evil didn’t triumph that day. I choose to believe that the good that has happened to countless people in the past 10 years as a result of the actions of those inhumane murderers outweighs those four acts of atrocity.

Hope is what keeps us from being enslaved by the events of the past. Hope will not allow terrorists the final chapter in our story. Hope will look for something salvageable among the ruins.

Keep the faith. Have hope. Live free.


  1. Jason Clemens

    Nikki: What an amazing story. You tell it well, as well as such a horrible day can be told. You're right… there were so many instances where one could see the hand of God keeping your family safe. And thanks for looking at the positives in this horrible day: the heroes, the survivors, the safety of your family. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Jen Weir

    Oh Nikki, the countless stories of people who were just a little late that day, or who didn't make it in to work for one reason or another. Thanks for sharing this. I often think of friends I know who were right there and wonder how it has affected them. Love your writing!!


  3. Jodie Pentak

    WOW Nikki! I had NO idea you had this experience. My husband Bill, was interviewing with Enron – of all places. It was first of many interviews before getting the job but he was told that he should probably go home and come back another day 'today isn't a good day to interview'. No! it wasn't. SO thankful Tee was ok and made it home to you and your family.


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