Reflections on 9/11, 20 Years Later

Everyone old enough to remember the Sept. 11 terror attacks has a story about where they were when they saw or heard the news and their reaction in the immediate aftermath. 

Hearing these stories, from different people at different stages in life, help us gain understanding about the tragic events of that day. These perspectives — representing shared feelings of shock, fear, sadness, anger, grief — can be helpful as we reflect 20 years later on Sept. 11, 2001.

Leah Bronson, Publisher

I woke up to my roommate’s alarm clock playing the news, a typical pattern for weekdays in college, tossed and turned listening to the grumbling through the wall and understood by the tones that something was happening “live” as they were reporting. I had to get to class, so I hurried to get ready and ran by my classmate’s apartment to meet up and walk to school — he lived on the 4th floor of a 5-story building with a center courtyard. I could see that everyone’s TVs were on and as I walked up the stairs I saw a screen showing an airplane crashing into a building and couldn’t believe my eyes. I moved up the staircase level by level, and every TV had the same image. By the time I got up to the door, I knew something was very wrong — I opened the door and the news took over “a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center — its a terrorist attack.” We didn’t go to class that day. We all sat frozen in front of our TVs watching in absolute shock and horror. It was terrifying. Friends started calling to be sure families and friends were safe. The father of one of my best friends worked in the World Trade Center and had run late to work that day, allowing him to survive, unlike anyone else on his floor. Life changed forever in that moment.

Susan B. Noyes, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer

My wedding anniversary is 9/11. Yep, my husband and I were married Sept. 11, 1983. We had six kids in rapid succession thereafter too. With the first five, I was too busy — just keeping everyone going in the right direction — to be very present to any child individually. However, that changed with my last child, Emma, and I became the mom who stayed in the back of the class just to enjoy watching her in action whenever I was welcome.

Emma’s best friend in preschool was Haley Fauntleroy, the second of four kids, also born in rapid succession. At first, Haley’s mother, Mindy, marveled that I wanted to be that mom in the back of the class. After raising so many children, didn’t I want more time to myself? But, Mindy came to appreciate my perspective — and the fact that I would watch out for her daughter and be a back-up mother during classes if needed, too.  

Noyes Emma and Haley
Emma and Haley

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I had just settled in to watch Emma and Haley in their dance class and daydream about celebrating our anniversary with my husband that night when Mindy rushed in to announce that two planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center towers. She knew it was terrorism, and she already had a plan. Mindy was rounding up her family, likely to take them to their vacation home several hours away from Chicago. But, she asked, could she do anything to help my family first?  

I couldn’t process the information about the planes immediately, but Mindy — quick witted, organized, strategic, big hearted — already had a smart strategy in place and wanted to help my family too.    

Emma, Haley, Mindy and Susan
Emma, Haley, Mindy and Susan.

That’s a good example of why I asked Mindy to co-found Make It Better with me a few years later. Her DNA is deep in our company and in our mission to be a trusted community resource that helps. I couldn’t have imagined that one day the company would grow to include an employee whose aunt is one of 9/11’s great heroes.  

Twenty years later, as I reflect on 9/11, I think of humanity — and cry for those who lost their family and friends. We were the fortunate ones. I feel gratitude for small ways that I can help. And I celebrate that Emma and Haley grew into outstanding young women despite the challenges of the post 9/11 times.

Brooke Geiger McDonald, National Digital Content Director

Late on the night of Sept. 10, 2001, I flew in from Switzerland after four weeks of backpacking through Europe. I still remember how poorly I slept the night before that flight — worried I’d miss it. In addition to the fear and horror I shared with everyone watching the news the next morning, I’ve never stopped wondering what it would have been like if I missed that flight and was alone in Europe on Sept. 11.

Patrick Regan, Editorial Director

Twenty years ago I worked as a night news editor for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. Sept. 11, 2001, is a blur of headline, photo and design decisions in the newsroom mixed with personal feelings of anger and shock. I’m fairly certain some of my colleagues worked through tears at various points that night. Perfectly understandable.

After we finished the paper, sometime around 1 or 2 a.m., about 10 of us headed to a local beer garden that stayed open late. We were on the doorstep of O’Hare Airport, and we often conducted our late-night discussions at this watering hole while shouting over the air traffic noise. In those early morning hours of Sept. 12, as we tried to make sense of the events of the previous 18 hours, someone pointed out the quiet of the beer garden because all planes were grounded. No one spoke for about 10 seconds as each of us soaked up the silence. Eerie. It began to sink in for me then that life in the U.S. had changed.

Macaire Douglas, Managing Digital Editor

Macaire 2000 NY School Trip copy
Macaire, bottom center, with friends in New York during a school trip in 2000.

It was the start of my senior year of high school in Wisconsin, and I was in my homeroom when an announcement came on the loudspeaker. It was our principal, asking each teacher to turn on the classroom television. We all quieted down as we took in what was happening. The black smoke from the first tower was billowing wildly, and the newscaster was trying to make sense of what was happening. Shortly after we tuned in, we witnessed the second tower being struck. I remember the shock of it all, especially when our teacher started crying. We stayed in our homeroom glued to the news for most of the morning, and I believe most parents ended up picking up students early. As a parent now, I completely understand the need to have your children with you when something shocking and horrible like 9/11 happens.

Julie Eldring, Media Consultant

I was at home with my toddler son that morning watching “The Today Show” as events unfolded. My mom called to say she was happy to know that my husband wasn’t traveling to New York weekly any more, not knowing that he actually was in Manhattan for work that day. Thankfully he was in midtown and although he experienced a difficult time leaving the city and returning to Chicago, we were grateful for his safety. So many people never returned home. I remember feeling so helpless just watching the coverage, not knowing what to do. It was certainly a life changing day.

Jessica Gliddon, Senior Content Manager & Digital Editor

Jessica in London.

It was the end of summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. My boyfriend and I were just finishing up what had been a great couple of weeks in the U.K., and I was due to fly back to the U.S. Sept. 12. We were doing one of our favorite things, browsing the used CD stores off of Tottenham Court Road in central London. The guy behind the counter had a little TV playing the news, and I remember crouching down in this cramped space looking at CDs and the guy says, “Oh my god, a plane hit the World Trade Center in New York.” Someone else in the store said “Yeah right, stop joking,” and then we all went and looked at the TV. To our horror, there was the South Tower collapsing.

We ran up the stairs to the street outside. At the time, Tottenham Court Road was lined with electronic stores with TVs in the windows. All of them were showing the news, and people had stopped in the streets and were gathered around watching, stunned. We saw people pouring into pubs, which all had their TVs tuned to the news. We crammed into one, and the news was talking about Flight 93, destined for San Francisco, crashing, and someone else in the pub said, “Oh my god, we’re from San Francisco.” I said I lived in the Bay Area too, and we hugged. Everyone around us started saying they were so sorry.  

It took me another week to get a flight back to the U.S. In the days before I left, signs went up all over London saying things like “We’re with you, America.” It was incredible to feel the international solidarity and outpouring of sympathy — one of the only good things to come of that horrible tragedy.

Jennifer Woolford, Strategic Events and Media Consultant

I am proud to be born and raised in Brooklyn and a New Yorker. We are all very proud, New Yorkers, there is no doubt about that. 

It was a very hard day for me, having taken my mom to the hospital for a broken femur overnight. I was at the hospital and came home at 7 a.m. I called my brother in New York to let him know of our mom’s fall and he told me to turn on the TV right away.

I was shocked, scared and torn on what to do next… head to The Mart, where I worked at the time handling PR and communications, and support the massive building which was obviously in turmoil, or support my mom who needed surgery and someone by her side. The hospital then shut down and I remember being frozen in time. 

I made it through the day, but by the evening I headed straight to church to do what I do, pray for those who so needed prayers. My beautiful New York and all those innocent people, and my mom. I was glad for St Francis in Wilmette to be there to hold me together. 

I had friends from home in the buildings, and worried about others inside. I had many friends hurting so badly, and later learned about the loss of a Brooklyn classmate, and beautiful person inside and out, Jody Tepedino Nichillo. She was such a bright light.

I remembered my sweet 16 which was held at a dinner with our closest Fire Island friends at the Windows on the World. I could picture being there, so full of hope. 

To this day, I remember most the way we came together as Americans, and only hope we can find that together again. We are for absolute sure Better Together. 

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