Monday, September 11, 2006

Where Were You?

It was way to early to be waking up, I remember, as I heard the cell phone ringing and took no time at all to decide to ignore it. If somebody really wanted to get a hold of me, they would try my home line. I tried to go back to sleep, but before I knew it, the land line was ringing, this person was persistent. Annoyed, I got up and checked my cell phone. It was Michele. She knew better than to call before 8am, something must be wrong.

The conversation between her and I was fragmented and frantic. Had I been watching the news? Had I heard from John? Was he supposed to fly anywhere today? Where exactly was he flying from and when exactly was his flight? Very concerned, but not wanting to tell me as much, she implored me to turn on the news and contact John as fast as I could. Then, when I did get a hold of him, please call her back immediately….

I flipped on the “Today Show” - Matt and Katie were clearly upset, something big was going on, and they obviously hadn’t completely figured out the scope of it yet, either. In fact, as I sat there transfixed, they shared the shocking news that the second tower had just been hit by a different plane – clearly, this wasn’t an accident…..

I started dialing John’s cell phone as I franticly searched for his itinerary. This was supposed to be a very short business trip, John was to be home within a couple of days so we could prepare for our first family trip to Disneyland that upcoming weekend. His cell phone sent me directly to voice mail – “CALL ME AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS MESSAGE!” Fortunately, I was able to find his itinerary, and though it gave me little insight to his flights for the day, it did have the hotel’s phone number where he was staying in New Jersey. Miraculously, I was connected straight through to the hotel operator. I asked for John Riley’s room….and…..then, the sweet sound of my husband’s groggy voice. “Oh, John, thank God you’re there and safe.” He was very confused at the intensity of my greeting. He had no idea what was going on. In an effort to maintain integrity while traveling, he’d made a promise to himself to not watch tv on his own. I stayed on the line while he walked across the hallway to the concierge lounge. He let me go and promised to call soon when he began to witness with his own eyes the second tower fall……..

As promised, I called Michele right back – it was only then that she shared her fears that he was on the United flight headed towards DC. The terror she had felt knowing that John only flew United and was set to leave from the very same airport that day – overwhelming. Immediately, after hanging up with her, I dropped to my knees and bawled, and prayed, and praised. It could have been me that would become a widow that morning. It could have been the baby girl inside of me, still 3 months from greeting the world, that would have never been able to greet her daddy. And, it could have been the 2 and ½ year old boy, who knelt beside me and watched as Mommy cried and told him how much God had saved Daddy, that might never have remembered a time with him.

We didn’t make it to Disneyland that weekend – instead we reunited as a family in Boise. Because of the FBI quarantine on his hotel, John wasn’t even able to leave for the first 2 and a half days. Why the quarantine? Well, as it turns out, one of the hijackers stayed the night prior in that very same Marriott. John recollects seeing him come out of an elevator and thinking the guy looked a little odd. Odd doesn’t begin to describe it.

Getting home became John’s obsession. Flights were cancelled, and no one had answers as to when. So, he began driving. Originally, he planned just to drive as far as Chicago, believing he’d have a better chance of getting a flight from there. With that in mind, he “adopted” a passenger to ride along with him, whom he commissioned to talk endlessly just to keep him awake. She was a 50 something United employee….. a God-given companion that John ended up sharing the Message with. When Chicago proved no more helpful for flights – he rented a deluxe vehicle (on the company card) and headed west. It was a remarkable journey for him, meeting strangers who, due to circumstances, embraced him as family.

It was hard waiting at home for him, which is why I chose to start driving east early Saturday morning with Brayden (and obviously Mikayla in utero) in tow. The skies were so clear, no planes, no white fuzzy trails from exhaust – it was so surreal. It wasn’t until we embraced at the Fairfield Inn at Boise that things began to feel normal again. We ate at Red Robin, had Baskin and Robbins ice cream, and watched “Shrek” from Pay per View that night. Our family, at least, was going to come out of this thing alright. But, oh, the pain, the injustice, the loss, the sacrifices, the sadness – will never be forgotten.

The night of September 11th, we went to my parent’s house. Brayden was playing unsupervised on their older treadmill and before we knew it, he was wailing. He had fallen and the belt literally took the skin down to the bone on his ankle. It was nasty, but not ER material. I doctored it in the days that followed, but the scar will probably always remain. I call it his September 11th scar – for him, it’s visible, for the rest of us, most likely not – but invisible or not, there is a scar we all feel from that fateful day that forever changed history.


chele said...

Where was I?

Well, clearly, my role in Steph's story was well defined. Michael had woken me up and immediately turned on the news to show me the first images of the destruction taking place. I laid there in that surreal fog for a few minutes - wondering "what on earth?" and considering who I knew that might be most affected by the tragedy. It did not take long to consider John. As I was looking for my cell phone, questions began to surface. Why hasn't Steph called me to tell me everything is okay? Surely John would have already called her... Surely she would have called me. If she hasn't heard from him yet, what does that mean? What are the odds that he was on one of those United planes?

When Steph received my call without knowing anything, I became inwardly panicked. Truly, tears are streaming down my face right now in memory of those few moments of waiting and wondering if John was one of the victims. I have to say that those few minutes were probably the longest, most agonizing minutes of my life. My gut told me surely he's okay - my brain told me that it could be him just like it could have been anyone else on those flights.
Like Steph, when I finally received word of his safety, I praised God immensely for taking care of my big bro. I then began praying for all of those less fortunate whose stories ended differently - where good news was not on the other end of the phone.

I recently heard a country song "WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE WORLD STOPPED TURNING" that portrayed America's reaction to this event. The lyrics were powerful - highlighting our nation's role in loving one another through the pain and suffering. The "secular" artist even shared God's message of "faith, hope, and love - but the greatest is love" - a message that I pray our country holds on to as we commemorate the sacrifices made on that day.

JustMe said...

I was at home, with Tyler (toddler) and Rachel (baby), turning on cartoons when I saw it on TV. I stood there horrified for about half an hour, called Shanne at work to talk about it, and kept watching until Tyler asked, "Mommy, why did that plane hit the building?" Then I realized that he was getting concerned, and forced myself to turn it off. Then I watched the TV specials, burned candles outside at night, flew the flag, read stories about widows who gave birth in the weeks and months after...and then I found myself avoiding the stories and reminders in an attempt to stop grieving and move on. Last night, though, I watched the TV special (after a weekend of watching Steve Irwin specials) and let myself go to that place of grieving again. Today I have a homemade sign hanging outside that says, "We Remember Sept. 11, 2001...In our thoughts and prayers." And I think of how God brought beauty from the ashes of that day. I think of the war we've been fighting for five long years. I think of countries where terrorism is an everyday occurrence. There's just so much to mull over and I'm so thankful that Good WILL be victorious over evil, for all eternity.

stephietoo said...

I awoke that morning to the sound of my phone ringing. Looking at caller ID I noticed that it was my boss calling me from his cell phone. I remember thinking 'why would Pat be calling me right now, he should be on a plane to Georgia?' He quickly told me to turn the TV on and tell him what was going on; that their plane had been diverted to Idaho and that all planes are being grounded, but they wouldn't tell them why.

I turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit. I told him that two planes had hit the World Trade Centers and it looks like a terrorist attack. He asked me to call his wife to let her know that he was ok and that he would call her as soon as he landed in Idaho. (Luckily, they were able to get the plane back to Eugene and he was reunited with his wife and daughter shortly thereafter.) I was so afraid that Pat's plane may be one of the planes still unaccounted for, one of the planes that was taken over by terrorists. I was so relieved to hear his voice when he called to tell me he had landed and was going home to see his wife.

I immediately thought of all the employees I knew that were traveling that day (John being one of them being we worked at the same company). I rushed to work and immediately started making sure that all employees traveling that day were accounted for. Praise God they all were! I remember spending the rest of the day sitting in the boardroom watching the news on our movie theater size projection screen. What a powerful, sad, unforgetable, horrific day that was.

My heart goes out to all who lost a loved one that day.

I love you all!

HollieHobbie said...

At 5:46am I was sleeping. At 5:48am the phone rang and I said "can't these family members on the East Coast just count back by three to tell what time it is here???" It was my sister who had just gotten off the phone with her mom in law In Manhattan! I was in disbelief like the rest of us. I also felt helpless. I don't know why, but it seemed like my whole entire family should be together just hugging. Oh my parents were to leave on September 12, needless to say they were land locked in Eugene for another two weeks.