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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Memories of September 2001

In early September of this year, I got a lovely message from my cousin Viki, who lives in western Hungary. At the time I received it, I was in a delicate emotional state. After several months of surgeries and complications for Trent, as well as having our car break down to the point of no repair, we had one final, heartbreaking blow. We had to make the decision to have our darling little dog, Paris, put down. She had been our Babygirl for twelve and a half years, so it was devastating. When the news stories and memorials started to come on the television and internet right around our wedding anniversary, September ninth, we felt it even more deeply since our emotions were so raw.

I received a message from Viki telling me her September 11, 2001 experience. At the time these things happened, we had not yet met each other, and I had not met any of my Hungarian relatives, which makes the story even more precious to me.

In September 2001, Viki was a new University student. Until the new students go through a special ceremony, they are considered to be merely a visitor to the school. After the ceremony, which was to include shaking hands with President Mádl Ferenc (while wearing white gloves), she would officially join in the University society. During the program, someone came up to President Mádl and whispered something in his ear, and then they both left. The Vice Chancellor of the University told them that the President had to go to Budapest because of an international affair. There were no handshakes, so they all felt let down, but they were official members of the University now.

When they arrived back at the school, all five hundred of the older students were sitting silently watching the television. Nobody said anything, just sat there mutely, as my cousin says. They found out that there was a terrorist attack on the USA. All of the day's classes were cancelled, and they spent the entire day watching the events unfolding on tv. Viki says in her message, "Katrina, I didn’t know you then, but I think we felt commiseration with America. I saw more documentary films about 9/11 this week, and I decided to tell you, that we feared for American people." I think many of us did not realize how great an impact the events of that day had all over the world. It touched my heart very deeply to know that people everywhere were sharing our grief and shock.

And now, for my dear cousin, I will share my experience of that day.

Trent was driving the both of us to work in downtown Denver that morning. We both worked in the telephone customer service center of a large bank. Trent was a telephone banker, and I was a trainer.  We had the radio on in the car, and they said something about a plane crashing into the WTC. What? Then they said something about the WTC being on fire. I remember being really irritated. Why couldn't they get their story straight, was it a plane crash or a fire? When we got in to work, my coworker Jeff was on the phone with his wife, who was filling him in on what was coming across on the television news. I learned that a plane had crashed into the WTC.

Suddenly Jeff went pale and told the coworkers gathered around that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon complex. My blood ran cold, and I was in complete shock. An attack on US soil? My friend Danielle and I burst into tears and ran down to the employee breakroom to watch some of the news coverage. That week, I was training a small class that was advancing to more complex servicing of accounts. Needless to say, we accomplished almost nothing that day. No one could focus. We were talking about the towers being hit, how it was done, and by whom. We got updates in the training room from Danielle about the towers collapsing and the flight where the passengers re-took their plane and crashed it to save other people's lives. Some of my current and former trainees came to tell me that they were going to have to write wills and get their affairs in order, because they might be shipping off to go to combat.

We were living in a world that we did not recognize that day. I remember doing a lot of weeping. I also remember asking my boss if she would go in to an empty office with me to say a prayer. Soon the country's shock and sadness began to give way to anger and most of all a desire to be of help. I do believe that this time will go down in the annals of US history as being one of our darkest moments, but also one of our finest.

Something that made me feel strange is something that I have shared with very few people before today. I have been to New York City twice, in 1987 and again in 1992. Both times I saw many wonderful sights and enjoyed so much about this amazing city. But I never got around to seeing the  World Trade Center. On both trips, I neglected to make the time to go there. I remember saying to my fellow travelers on both trips, "Well, I can see it the next time I come here, it's not going anywhere." Those words still haunt me, because we never know what will be there the next day, or whether we will even be around on the next day. As a result, I try to remember to enjoy life and beauty and adventures when I have the opportunity. We may never pass this way again.

Note: I have written the Hungarian President's name in the traditional Hungarian manner, which is last name first.