Friday, September 11, 2009

From Comment To Short Story

This is such an outstanding comment! It is really a short story. I wanted to share it with you. It is worth your time to read it through. BTW, as I've said before, storytelling is a very effective teaching strategy. Stories engage and stick in your mind. Here is one we can all relate to.

From Guest Blogger: Shirley Meek Williams

Eight years ago today we were in a hotel room in Washington DC (about 3 blocks from the White House) when we heard a loud noise. We looked out the window to see what it was but didn’t see anything except guys washing windows across the street. You always see that in big cities. I think it’s a permanent part of city landscape. I was mesmerized by their scaffolds. I was sure those men were dangling and my fear of heights kicked in. I was certain one of those guys was about to splatter all over the hot concrete below. I’d witnessed one such scene and never wanted to witness another. I quickly forgot about the loud noise. Noses pressed to the glass of our room, we watched them with intensity as we waited for my husband, Carl, to come back from paying the bill.
I was homeschooling Josh at the time and several days earlier we had embarked on the Mother of all field trips. I knew the eight grade curriculum included an in-depth study of the Holocaust. We had read the Diary of Anne Frank and had done our homework. What better place to experience the Holocaust than the newly erected Holocaust Museum in Washington. You see, that is the beauty of homeschooling. You can plan your vacations whenever you want, around holidays, weather etc. This was to be a special vacation. We were going to spend several days in DC and then head to New York City. We wanted to do something for our other son, Matt, as well since he had just graduated from high school and taking someone with his musical talents and interests to see Julliard was as good as it gets for him.

Matt had only been to NYC once and that was when we took him and his friend, Eddie, all the way up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty when they were about 8. Josh had never been to NYC. We wanted them to see as much of it as possible. We had reservations at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Manhattan, right there in the heart of Broadway. We wanted to take them to the top of the Empire State Building but so many people suggested the Twin Towers instead for a better view. We hadn’t decided yet but it would be one of the two. we wanted them to see a Broadway show, Wall Street, and eat hot dogs off a cart.

We took a family vote and decided to drive all the way from Atlanta to DC in one day. We had reservations that first night in a different place than the other remaining nights. As we entered the DC area, (without a Garmin!) we searched for the hotel and discovered that it was very close to the Pentagon. The teacher in me surfaced with a vengeance and I embarked on a long epistle about the Pentagon, the shape, how many people worked there, and why we even needed a Pentagon in a city with so many other buildings. Little did we know, as we circled around the building in the dusk, that we would never see it quite like that again, that it would soon be covered up in ashes and tears. What lay ahead of us was something more than a nightmare but ignorance is bliss, something I can attest to now.

We spent three days in Washington DC. It is a city alive with excitement and electricity. Adrenalin flows abundantly. I love Washington DC. In earlier years, I had spent a lot of time there. The first time I saw the White House, I squealed, “Look how white it is!” In 1974 I found myself standing in front of that very white building with throngs of curiosity seekers and reporters as our 37th President, Nixon, resigned. Once, in the Kennedy Center, I was on an elevator with Henry Kissinger. And there was the time I stood in front of Gerald Ford’s home in Alexandria while he was inside packing to take over his new job, 38th President of the United States. He didn’t have long to pack, under the circumstances.

So here I was, back in the city that excited me like no other. We visited monuments by night and museums by day. On the morning of Sept 11, we had one place left to visit: the FBI building, something I knew the boys would enjoy. We had moved to another hotel and this time we were only a couple blocks from the White House. In fact, we could step outside and see part of it’s black wrought iron gate. In those days, you could walk up quite close. I’d done it many times and once even got to peer in the Oval Office after midnight.

That day, Sept 11, we planned to walk to the FBI building, have a bite of lunch, and then head off to New York City. Our DC hotel would hold our bags for us downstairs until we were ready to leave. Carl had gone to check out and I was getting our bags together. What was taking him so long??? We waited for what seemed an eternity and soon he came back, telling us he had gotten caught up in some news story on TV in the lobby about a plane crash in NYC. “What happened?”“I don’t know. Some little plane hit a building. It’s probably on TV.”

Not wanting to waste much time, I turned on the TV to see Katie Couric squirming and stuttering about this plane crash saying they didn’t know for sure what kind of plane it was nor how it could have run into a building, etc. ( I later learned she was stuttering because she new more than she was telling us) Good grief, I thought to myself. Dang pilots can’t even see a tall building in front of them. What kind of idiot would do that?

Down the stairs we went and out to the sidewalk where, before we could walk 20 steps, were greeted by a Routers News reporter. “You people are obviously tourists.” (REALLY? Was it THAT obvious?)“How is this news going to affect your plans?”“We are just going to proceed with our plans with caution”, answered my husband.(And could you kindly move out of our way so we could PLEASE just PROCEED???? I need to get to the FBI building! It’s on my agenda. It’s my Mother of all homeschool trips and I must get on with my plans!)Apparently I mentioned the FBI thing out loud because a by-stander said, “Honey you can’t go to the FBI building now.”“Really?” (Move out of my way lady, I’m goin)We crossed the street, grabbed some water at a corner fountain, and headed to the FBI building. We walked about one block and then it all happened.

Have you ever had something said or happen to you when you thought you had heard it wrong or maybe you had seen it wrong?“There’s a fire on the mall!” someone yelled.“There’s a car on fire in front of the Capital”“You cant’ go that way”, people screamed. And as we looked ahead, I saw a sight I will never forget: a sea of people…and I mean a sea of people, all coming our way. Because a plane was headed to Washington DC to do more damage, all of the office buildings had been evacuated. All ten billion people were headed our way, on foot. They could not get to their cars. They were just told to get out of the area as fast as they could.(What in the world is going on? Good grief!)

Carl told me we had to turn around. “WHY?” I asked.“ Because they say we are under attack.”REALLY???Now don’t ask me how or why, but I had not one iota of fear. I was mad because I could not get to the FBI building. Dang it. Drove all the way up here and now I can’t’ do it. We’ll just go on to NYC earlier than planned I reasoned. It’ll be fun. I’ll find something EXTRA for us to do on the way. Maybe Annapolis??????

We turned around slightly ahead of the masses. Some people went flying by, running, screaming, etc. Some were crying. Many were on cell phones. And then it happened. The fighter jets began to fly over our heads. Carl knew they were fighter jets but I didn’t. I don’t have a thing for airplanes so what did I know. It was just loud noise to me. The boys? Well, Matt was enamored with an old gray-bearded dude leaning up against a concrete statue smoking weed. Matt wanted to take a picture (which he did). Here the whole world is falling apart in front of our very eyes and this guy is just cooling his heels and Matt is taking it all in. He thought it was terrific. Josh was just in tow, like his mom, taking in the sights.

OK, I thought. All these ten billion people have to go somewhere. They can’t get to their cars, the subway is closed. Where will they all go?? They are all going to want a hotel room. MY hotel room!!!! They are all going to want food and the food is going to give out since the beltway is closed. No food trucks can get into the city. (I promise you, this was forefront in my mind). We took off running at this epiphany and got our room back. We went to the pay phone but the lines were as long as the Honeybaked Ham lines on Christmas Eve morning. We'd better eat. All the food is going to be gone.

The restaurant at the hotel was a corner, glassed in at a major intersection. We had front row seats to one of the most historic days in the history of our country. Sirens, sirens, sirens, sirens, ambulances, Walter Reed, fire trucks, fire trucks, screaming, running, gridlock, and many long black limousines (with flags on the front) riding up on the sidewalks. No telling who was in the limos but they were being rushed to safety and we weren’t. That picture is etched into my memory. Just mass chaos.

We witnessed history that day. We didn’t make it to the FBI building. We still had no idea about the gravity of NYC. All we knew is that something really bad had happened in several places, that the U.S. was under attack and that we would not be able to get to NYC. Later that afternoon we were able to get out of the area after many long, long lines of traffic jams. For miles after we left the area, we could see dark smoke rising over the cityscape of DC, and fighter jets combing the skies. It wasn’t until we were in a little Holiday Inn in rural North Carolina that we saw the incredible footage of those two tall buildings falling. OMG….. OMG……. OMG……… OH MY GOD. Look at that……….. OH MY GOD….GOD HAVE MERCY.

We slept fitfully that night. No one wanted to sightsee on the way home except me. Everyone wanted to go back home…it was church night. We all wanted to be in church. We drove that white van hard and fast to get back in time for church. We didn’t even change clothes. We walked in to a lot of hugs and prayers for us. People had been really worried. But we had been saved. Some really nice guys in a big plane over the fields of Pennsylvania had answered the, "Lets Roll" call, and had saved our lives on September 11. God must have something else He wants us to do. We were never so glad to be in church as we were that night.

I have a lot to be thankful for today…and everyday. I hope to never repeat history like that again. To be sure, it was the Mother of all field trips.


  1. miss sandra,
    the effects of that day will affect me the rest of my life, even though i merely watched on the T.V.
    9/11 is my birthday

  2. Oh Bob. I know this makes your birthday one of mixed feelings. Focus on the joy and beauty of each day and celebrate your life every 9-11. Now I have 3 friends who were born on 9-11!

  3. Oh, Shirley, what a story--so well articulated! So many emotions aroused. Have you considered modifying it for a devotional magazine, maybe Guideposts? I think it's worth a try.

  4. Karen, I think that's a GREAT idea!

  5. Utter sadness consumed me when I read your recap of events
    for you and your family. As the day unfolded, it must have become so surreal.
    In the end, so many innocent people would perish.
    Thank you for sharing your memory of that historical vacation.
    Very effectual.

  6. Shirley, just incredible. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I watched tv as the second plane went into the tower. I finally went to work, I really don't even remember driving there. Then I could not stop thinking that I just wanted my kids and my husband with me. I just felt we needed to be together. My cousin was killed in the Oklahoma ... Read MoreCity Bombing, and it was upfront in my mind for sure that day. I also had friends visiting N.Y. when they car bombed the WTC a few yrs earlier. They were not hurt, but were in all the mess and right there basically when it happened, again, they made it out safe. I just for the first time last year was able to visit the OKC Memorial. It was something I wanted to do but was never able to bring myself to do it. You are a great writer and what memories. I will never forget the day, either one of them. GOD BLESS

  7. Unbelievable, Shirley. I am so thankful that you and your family were kept safe.

  8. What a story! I too remember that day. Fortunately I was safe in my home. My kids were at school close by. My husband was in downtown Atlanta. I was glued to the tv worrying and praying and praying and worrying. Your recount of your trip kept me on the edge of my chair but also brought some snickers ... your determination to keep to your plan... Read More altho the world as we knew it was uncertain ... and your desire for FOOD!! I too would have headed directly to my church family to their hugs as you did after that historical trip! wow

  9. Thanks everybody. We all have so many feelings around that day. Good to share them.


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