September 11, 2001 ~ Part I. Mary E. Latela
We had just finished our second session of Introduction to World Religions at Community College in Hartford, Connecticut. There had been some hesitancy about including a “religion” course in a state-run college, until one of the retiring Profs gave the idea a push. The class was full of students – kids, returning middle-agers, and quite a few retired folks who for a lower fee could take any class (and for which they added a rich perspective).
The rapport was instant … people introduced themselves to one another, chatted pleasantly, as we walked through the hallway to the cafeteria/student center.
With the power of a bolt of lightning, everything changed. The noise was deafening, than a hollow silence followed. A TV had been set up and we viewed the first plane plowing into the World Trade Center Building in NYC. What? This can’t be! 75 miles from where we stood, an attack on America had begun. A kind of disbelief/fantasy/fear came over the group.
It had to be true. OMG, a second plane hit the other WTC building. Our College President plugged in a microphone and – you have to give the man credit – said very quietly, “Something is wrong. There are reports of attacks in NYC. We want you to go home now. We will follow what happens next and keep in touch.”
The procession of cars moved through Hartford, thoughtlessly driving right past the state Capitol building, and down the back streets southward. I lived in Wethersfield, and when I arrived at the parking lot, my neighbors were clustered at the entrance, standing very still. What is going on?
Someone said that the Pentagon had been hit as well. The silence I had savored in the car evaporated. I woke up then, and rushed up to my apartment on the third floor. My sister Cathy was then chief of staff for one of the U.S. Senators. She was at the Capital, working, we assumed. I tried her cellphone number and the main switchboard numerous times, but I could not reach her. Adding to the worry was that she and Walter resided on a boat on the Potomac, within a short distance of D.C.’s bustling activity.
I called my daughter; when the message went to voice mail, and I asked her to call me immediately. This was urgent. She was in SE Ohio. As the morning moved on, we learned about a plane flying over Pennsylvania, whose trajectory we knew well. We had crossed PA many times taking Caroline back and forth to college.
The television was on all day. Horrible images appeared, but this was not some manufactured fear propaganda. People were dying. My heart broke to see people jumping out windows, to escape the fires and the poisonous gases.
Caroline called and she asked what was going on. When you’re at college, you don’t let the outside world interfere with your schedule, but they had heard about NYC, heard about the Pentagon, and there was some talk about another plane. Dear God, don’t let that other plane go near my daughter. She said, “I wish I were home, Ma.”
At 1:30PM the phone rang and it was Cathy. She spoke quickly. “I’m OK.” She said the phones were down; communication was being scrambled. The sky was empty, as all flights had been grounded. She asked me to call Mom and Dad, and our sister Annette. Walter was ok. She would try to get through later. We said, “I love you.”
We kept all the lights on that night.