In visiting with my wife the other day about everything going on around the world, she made the comment “It feels much like it did on 9/11 when we were in Boston…surreal”. I couldn’t help but think back to a morning that seemed like only yesterday but actually now is 20 years ago…
That morning, of course, was September 11, 2001.
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On Saturday, September 8th, our family flew to Boston as I had just earned my CEBS designation (Certified Employee Benefit Specialist) and we would be attending my designation ceremony while enjoying a family vacation too.
We flew into Boston’s Logan Airport. From our plane’s window, we could see the Boston Lighthouse in Boston Harbor.
Our “home away from home” was the Sheraton Boston Hotel, which at the time boasted as New England’s largest and finest hotel. Our room was on the 12th floor facing a beautiful view of Boston’s historic Back Bay.
On Monday, we ventured our way through Boston’s historic roadways. “The Walking City” is a most appropriate nickname due to the quick growth that occurred along literal (legend has it) cow paths many years ago. Today’s streets, many still of cobblestone, remain narrow while twisting around the city.
After spending amazing moments exploring the New England Aquarium (our daughter Rhiley really loved this, including getting a BIG kiss from Tyler, the sea lion during their kid-assisted show), my wife and daughter cheered me on in the evening as CEBS designation was conferred upon me.
We continued our exploration by visiting the Public Garden, relaxing mid-day with a ride on the Swan Boats, and finished the day on the 60th floor observatory of the John Hancock Tower (the tallest building in New England). One of the last groups to do so.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (in my wife’s words):
Here we were, in an anchor city of our nation’s birth, reveling in the rich history that was so beautifully obvious at our every turn. Little did we know, that on this day, we would become a part of a major historical event in our nation’s timeline.
We awoke this morning to the excitement of another day of vacation adventures. Jon was scheduled to attend a symposium within the hotel. Rhiley & I were off to Cambridge to visit the Harvard campus and Boston’s Museum of Science. We said our farewells and went our separate ways right around 8:45 a.m.
At the Wordsworth Bookstore, we saw sales clerks gathered around a tv and talking about the horrible “freak” accident of an airplane crashing into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
After a short ride on the subway, we approached the nearby Widener Library located within the Harvard Library. Once on the main campus, we came across a young girl just sobbing. Seeing her in such distress, I approached to ask if there was anything we could do to help her. The young girl looked up at me as If I were an alien and responded, “Don’t you know what’s happened?”
The second Trade Center Tower had been hit by another plane. This was no “freak” accident…the United States was under attack. Upon closer inspection, Rhiley and I could see people literally scattering. My first thoughts included how far we were from our hotel, how close Boston is to New York City, prior knowledge to subways being gassed, the fear Jon would have for us and the courage I needed to summon for our daughter.
With all these thoughts swirling in my mind, people in utter chaos and Rhiley’s fear increasing – I knew there was only one way we were going to get through this okay…I knelt down, taking Rhiley’s hands in mine and we prayed.
I had a strong resistance to getting back on the “T” due to earlier recollection. I had no idea how their bus system worked and also had no map displaying stops. Shops and businesses were closing up all around us. At that time, it wasn’t commonplace to have a cell phone on you, so to be certain Jon could reach us if he tried, we went to our next planned destination, the Boston Museum of Science which was not far away.
By the grace of God, the museum was still open; however, their bustling population consisted of us and 4 or 5 other families. We toured the museum, allowed some time to pass, received a little more news and finally gathered the strength to again board the “T”.
Our ride back was incredibly eerie. For starters, the “T” attendants, who are usually quite concise regarding tokens, rushed us through the roll-gate foregoing any tokens. We boarded with only a handful of other people. Again, the stark contrast and quiet of the usual crowds was unnerving.
Rhiley and I emerged from the underground stop to deserted Boston streets. Everything was closed. We arrived back at our hotel and were allowed to enter only after showing and confirming our room card, displaying my license for proper identification and being frisked.
Jon said it all when we opened the door to our room, “Thank you, God!”
Great tragedy has come to us, and we are meeting it with the best that is in our country with courage and concern for others. Because this is America. This is who we are.President George W. Bush
Wednesday, September 12, 2001:
The light of a new day brought new hope. Jon and I had decided to make the best of our time in Boston and go ahead with our original plans which included a trolley tour that morning. Upon walking to our destination, we noticed many people huddled in small groups up and down the sidewalk. My curiosity peaked as I approached a group to inquire what they were looking up at. Their response? Unbelievable…the Westin Hotel across the street (our hotel’s emergency spot for guests)…was under a bomb threat!
We continued our day once the threat had been eliminated (authorities thought there were terrorists on a lower floor, which later turned out to be incorrect). We visited the iconic FAO Schwarz store, the “Cheers” bar, the Freedom Trail, as well as the site of the Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770). Later we viewed the Old North Church, the New England Holocaust Memorial, and then finishing our day with a visit to the Boston Public Library (the first major free municipal library in the US).
When the next day dawned, we packed up for a trip to Maine, which is a story for another time.
A hero is no braver than an ordinary person, but he is brave five minutes longer.Emerson
In closing, one would like to think that 20 years is a generous span of time to have learned something or some things from such a horrific event…what have you learned?
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