September 11: A day of mourning

Flag and candles at Washington Square Park Memorial, photo added to's National Book of Remembrance

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was recently back to work after having taken a long honeymoon vacation. I was working in HR at the time and entered my boss’ office to prepare for a meeting. I overheard some conversation about planes being hijacked. I asked what movie everyone was discussing. After being wrapped up in my own wedding for so long, I seemed to be out of the loop about everything, including recently released movies. My boss explained this was no movie.

In disbelief, I went back to my desk and tried to pull up any news website I could think of. I remember them all returning error messages – their servers apparently could not keep up with the traffic. Someone in the department had a radio and tuned it to AM. We huddled around it, listening as if it was an emergency weather report. The consultants we were to meet with arrived. We went to the conference room with the president of the company, to meet as planned. We soon got word that the second tower had collapsed. The president ended the meeting. He said this should be a day of mourning. He asked us to tell everyone to go home and be with their loved ones; he was closing the office.

Later, I learned about a woman named Alayne Gentul – HR Director for a company on the 90th floor of WTC Tower 2. I understand she helped employees stay calm and evacuate. And rather than go downstairs as quickly as she could, she went upstairs and tried to get the company’s technical team to evacuate, too. They never made it out alive. I can’t seem to forget her story. Working in HR, I felt like I knew Alayne – I worked with women exactly like her. We all do, every day.

Recently, while screening guest book entries for Sept. 11 victims, I became aware of a book called The Day the World Came to Town. It tells of the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when U.S. airspace was closed, forcing more than 6,000 passengers to land in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada (a town of 10,000). Some spent up to four days there, and received hospitality from the locals. A blurb about the book on states “even in times of great turmoil and conflict, people can and must look to one another for comfort, help, and hope.” This year to remember, I’m reading this book and sharing excerpts of it with my own children.

The “Remembering 9/11” site includes obituaries, profiles, Guest Books, Moving Tributes and a National Book of Remembrance. To date, more than 6 million people have visited the site, leaving more than 200,000 Guest Book entries.

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