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This is the week for one of those winding, emotional and reflective cruises down the turbulent tributaries that feed those endless eddies stirred by a life-changing event.
We don’t simply glance over our shoulders at the rapids that changed our course, but we stare at it, consume it anew and bring from our deep-sealed memories the emotions, the adrenalin that carried us through those waters to our anchorage of today.
When evildoers stole two commercial airliners and piloted them into the World Trade Center, sending those two icons of New York’s skyline plummeting into a dusty tomb of human tragedy, time stood still, life did a 90-degree turn and the course we navigated forward was anything but smooth, predictable and comfortable.
We all remember where we were that Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2001. You have read and heard stories from witnesses and survivors. Your neighbors, friends and even children unborn to that tragedy will discuss it anew this week.
You will reconsider that rapid ride and how it affected you personally.
This is the story of how 9-11 affected me, and I dare say it will have an ending not many of you could conceive, much less share.
But one thing we likely do have in common is our ability to visualize vividly that moment when what had happened first seeped into our senses, to rewind a newsreel of how that tragedy unfolded.
Just like the day when a student dispatched by another teacher informed Christine Mathis that John Kennedy had been assassinated and she called a halt to our fifth-grade PE class….
Just like sitting in a friend’s den watching Neal Armstrong step on the surface of the moon….
Just like when a reporter called to say an earthquake had struck at the World Series in Oakland….
Just like watching on CNN as the first missiles lanced through the night to strike targets in the fist Gulf War….
I remember the morning commute a little before 9 a.m. in Orlando, having taken a back street because of the frequent frozen flow on Interstate 4 into downtown, stopped at a long light, listening to Mike & Mike In the Morningon ESPN radio. Mike Greenberg says something like, “You’ll never believe this thing we are watching on television. An airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”
Immediately I envisioned one of those small site-seer craft having lost its way and glanced off a tower, which would have been amazing in its own right.
I immediately called my daughter, a student at Asbury College in Wilmore, to alert her of what was unfolding in a city that we both had come to love.
And then, not too many minutes later, as I arrived at work, I saw first hand how much larger this was than a mere bump in the morning. The earth had moved for all of us right then and there. The second jet had hit the other tower.
My role at the Orlando Sentinelin those days was to coordinate plans across the divisions of the company, to get this piece of news on the street as quickly as possible.
A group was convened in a conference room, discussing how to execute an extra edition, a TV playing in the corner, feeding us the emergency responses, the individual horror stories from hundreds of feet above the street, then the unthinkable:
The south tower came crashing down.
Shocked, we sat in awe before scrambling back to our areas to reconsider the scope of what we were seeing and the impact on all of us.
Meanwhile, in another conference room, our editor, Tim Franklin, was parsing stories among our staff. One group of reporters and photographers was told to head to the airport, to be on the first plane out, to cover the humanity on the ground.
Among those reporters was a woman I had known as a casual friend for a year or so. She worked in a bureau, wrote stories for the front page, had been hired by me during one of my previous jobs to co-author a column about nightlife in Orlando. We were pals, and I was proud of her to land this plum assignment.
What I didn’t know was that during this manic moment, she was facing a personal scare: Her cousin, who lived and worked outside Manhattan, she had learned, was headed for a meeting at the World Trade Center.
But just before time for her cousin was to depart for that meeting, it was canceled, perhaps and most likely saving her cousin’s life.
Still my friend was affected strongly by that news and the horror of what she would have been covering.
It caused her to reflect on her life, where it was, what was important and how she wanted to be sure nothing important was left behind.
She made a list of people she wanted to get to know better.
And, unknown to me, on that list was my name.
That plane to New York never departed, grounded as they all were, and the assignment had been delayed when, a couple of weeks later, after the turmoil had settled into routine, I ran into my friend at a SteinMart, where we chatted a bit.
A couple of days later I flew off for business in Chicago and for my grandmother’s 94th birthday party in Shelbyville, but when I returned to the office a week later, an E-mail was waiting:
Would I like to get together after work one night?
And on Oct. 18, 2001, my friend and I met at a restaurant near both our homes, neither of us thinking it was really a date but really just friends socializing.
Several hours were spent talking about 9-11, analyzing the past, present and future, and that’s where the fates of the world converged to change my life forever.
On that very date two years later, a wonderful epitaph actually rose from the rubble of the Twin Towers:
Stephanie Erickson became my wife.
To read more columns by Steve Doyle, visit www.SentinelNews.com/columns.