Category Archives: washington dc

9/11 and 5/1

Disbelief. Shock. Sadness. Heartbreak. Elation. Pride. I ran through a mosaic of emotions in the days, weeks and months after 9/11. Since hearing of Osama Bin Laden’s death I’ve felt them all over again.

I know I’m not the only one. As I hear from others who lived in and around New York City on that day I hear them echoing my own thoughts. One woman who lost her brother said it best, “I understand it’s a good day for America and the families that lost loved ones. In the beginning I was crying and I didn’t understand why, because you think after ten years that the tears will stop coming, but they don’t.”

I don’t feel the same level of anxiety I felt immediately after 9/11, but I still feel tinges of it every year on the anniversary. Time and distance have muted its effects, or at least that’s what I thought. I honestly never considered how I’d feel when the day came that Osama bin Laden was dead, no longer able to harm anyone else, but it feels like 9/11 all over again. Only this time I’m not surrounded by people who understand what it was like.

I’ve realized over the years that all of our lives changed in America that day, but that the closer you were to New York City or Washington DC the more affected you are. Perhaps that’s a no-brainer, but I still struggle to describe what that day was like. I’m often greeted with blank stares when I describe how thousands of people went into work that morning, me included, and how few of them came home. How full I-95 and the trains were going into Manhattan and how empty they were coming out. How a bustling metropolitan area that was constantly covered in sound erupting from planes overhead to cars on the ground to people walking around, was suddenly silent. And how the first time I made my way to the wreckage of the World Trade Center I stood in St. Paul’s Chapel at Vesey Street and couldn’t move for what seemed like hours.

Here is an excerpt from a previous entry I wrote on an anniversary of 9/11. It does help to remember. And it helps to reach out. I get in touch my friend Anne every year on 9/11 and couldn’t help but reach out yesterday after hearing of Osama bin Laden’s death. I don’t have to explain how important it was that we were together on that day.

Nearly ten years ago I woke up to a stunningly beautiful September morning in Connecticut. It was sunny, clear and crisp and fall was in the air. It was one of those days where you realize how gorgeous it’s going to be and you can hardly wait for the day to begin. Summer was trying to hang on, and I was looking forward to the day since Anne and I would have the office to ourselves. Our colleagues were on the road in Washington, DC and Pennsylvania, and I’d be spending the day getting ready to join them in the capitol the next day. Just a couple hours later the whole day changed, and the whole world changed with it.

Living in densely populated Fairfield County I was surrounded by people who worked in the city. My typical evening commute was characterized by driving bumper to bumper on I-95 or being crammed like a sardine on the outbound New Haven commuter train. But that afternoon, the afternoon of September 11th, the interstate was empty. The trains weren’t running. The emptiness combined with complete silence stemming from no flights overhead was eerie and surreal.

My heart continued to break with each passing moment as the reality of the events sunk in. As Anne and I listened to coverage on the radio (phones and the nascent internet were unreliable at best) and helped our colleagues find a way to get back home we just couldn’t visualize the destruction the terrorists had left in their wake. I really didn’t understand what the reporters meant when they said the towers had collapsed. Only that night as I sat in my living room in tears watching coverage of the day’s events, did I start to realize the hole that had been carved out of our country.

I hope all those who were lost on that day can now rest in peace. I hope all those who lost loved ones can find additional closure. And I hope that all of us remember to be compassionate towards those who were affected that day – September 11, 2001.

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lincoln cottage

Seven years ago I started research on the Lincoln Cottage, a small house situated on a hill on the edge of Washington D.C. where Abraham Lincoln spent his summers while President. He couldn’t travel to the Shenandoah Mountains like Herbert Hoover did or Camp David like many modern presidents do now. Our country was at war so he needed to stay close to Washington.

However he needed a place that was quiet, where he could think outside the chaos of Washington, and escape the hot swampy weather surrounding the White House. Even during the usually idyllic summer months Lincoln was often described as sad and restless as he wandered the grounds. During the summer of 1862 while living at the cottage he formed his thoughts on slavery that would he would eventually formalize with the Emancipation Proclamation.

My research led to the restoration of the Lincoln Cottage grounds which are now open to the public. The restoration project was initiated in anticipation of the Lincoln Bicentennial, which was in full swing this week surrounding what would have been Lincoln’s 150th birthday. Leading many of those celebrations was President Barack Obama.

In 2002, when I started this project I would not have believed that an African-American would reside in the White House when the celebration commenced. Now I can’t imagine anything else. In itself it’s the most profound element of the celebration and exactly what Lincoln foresaw as he pondered this very issue at the Lincoln Cottage.

the cottage and grounds in 2002 before restoration