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Since college I have had numerous occasions to visit New York City, as a student and later on business trips. They always seemed to take place in winter when the weather discouraged strolling around to enjoy the sites or the schedule didn't permit touristy enjoyments. But the spring of 2001 was different. During Easter vacation I took my daughter to visit New York just for fun and to visit my best friend from childhood, who lives in Greenwich Village. We did many of the common touristy things...visited the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the museums, and the World Trade Center. We chose not to take the time to go up in the towers, but browsed in the shops in the mall beneath them and tooks pictures from the base of the towers, looking up in amazement at their sheer height.

Then my friend was having a blessing of her marriage on June 10th, and my younger son accompanied me on the drive up for the event. Since we were stayng only one night, I wanted to do something memorable with him, and on Monday morning, June 11th, we went to the World Trade Center Observation Deck so he could look out over the city and get an overview. I have the admission ticket receipt from that day, 3 months exactly before the World Trade Center was no more. My son thought is was "impressive, but not really any more impressive than the view from our deck back home," which I took as an affirmation we had done something right with this child.

The morning of September 11th I drove to Canaan Valley for an early meeting prior to the start of the Governor's Annual Conference on Tourism. On the way, rather than listen to Morning Edition on public radio as I usually do, I listened to a book-on-tape, Total Control, which included a sabotaged plane crashing...

I arrived about 8 AM, registered, learned the meeting had been rescheduled, so I returned to sit in the car to finish some paperwork before the conference was to kick off. As I headed back into the Conference Center about 8:45, I overhead the conference coordinator commenting to someone that she'd been getting all kinds of calls asking if the conference had been cancelled. I asked her why they would think that and she responded "Maybe because our speakers can't get here." Still not understanding, I inquired further and she explained that all the airports were closed, and suggested I go in and look at the TV in the lobby. Only then did I learn the beginning of what was going on in New York.

Seeing the first tower crumble, I found my breath was knocked out of me by the shock of the sight. I stood there shaking with the others who had gathered for the conference, realizing that three months before my son and I had stood atop the target and that the day's events could as easily have happened that day.

As the wider dimensions of the attacks were announced, I worried about my friend and her new husband, who live just a block from St. Vincent's Hospital, where many of those injured near the World Trade Center were taken. Her husband had a job on Staten Island and took the ferry from Battery Park each day, and I feared he might have been on his way there when the planes hit. In Washington two of my husband's cousins and one of their spouses work at The Smithsonian, and other friends work in and near the Pentagon. And my oldest son was at the US Naval Academy, which also seemed a potential target of whoever was attacking our country. I worried about all of them, but was relieved to learn later that all were unharmed.

We are, thankfully, all only shocked and shaken, but September 11 is an indelible reminder of how fragile life is and that there are no guarantees of safety in this life. It has strengthened the imperative to tell those I love of my feelings often and to live life to the fullest each day.


Shari Gallery, age 49

 

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