My two older girls had just started preschool at our church. That first week, classes were only one hour to ease them into being away from mommy and in a class setting. I dropped them off that day, took a picture of them squinting in the sunshine in front of the entrance (I had forgotten the day before, which was the real first-day-of-school), and headed upstairs to the main church to attend mass with my youngest, instead of driving home for that one hour. On the way out around 9:35, my youngest daughter pointed at the candles we typically light for a special prayer. I couldn't think of anyone I knew who needed any special prayers that morning. It was a perfectly beautiful day, without a cloud in the sky, and all I knew and loved were healthy and doing well. But I lit a candle anyway, thinking someone somewhere must need a prayer that morning.
We still had about 20 minutes to pass before it was time to pick up the girls after preschool, so I put Alana in the stroller and walked around the neighborhood near the church for a few minutes. On the way back, someone drove by with their car radio blasting on a news station. I knew then that something important must've happened in the news. I met a few other mothers waiting by the church doors and one of them asked me if I'd heard what happened. She told me that a plane had flown into one of the twin towers. I had assumed it might be a small private plane and was a pilot error. She told me both her husband and her sister worked downtown in the towers or one of the shorter buildings that were part of the World Trade Center. She said they had evacuated and that her husband was walking the 80 or 90 blocks up to where his mother lived, uptown. We laughed about what a long walk he'd have. We just didn't know the seriousness of the situation.
When I finally picked up the girls and heard the news reports for myself, I was in complete shock. I drove home, but couldn't leave the car because I didn't want to miss a second of the events that were unfolding. Finally, I managed to wrench myself away from the radio and ran in to see everything unfolding on TV. When I saw those towers go down, I knew there was no way anyone could ever survive a collapse like that. I thought of the other mother I had spoken to at church and her sister and started to cry, thinking what she must be going through wondering if her sister were still alive.
It turns out my cousin, a NYC firefighter who worked in the Greenwich Village area downtown, was in the towers helping with the rescue that morning. He was in the lobby of the 2nd tower, helping evacuate, when something told him to get out. He did and soon after, the tower fell. I like to think whatever urged him to get out then had something to do with my candle prayer in the church that morning. He survived the collapse, as did my friend's sister. But many did not, and it's a day many of us will never forget.