Random header image... Refresh for more!

September 11th Redux

Updated at the Bottom:

I wasn’t going to post this.  I wrote it, and then intended to just let it sit in my draft folder.  I wrote it for myself, something I do often.

So I’m not really sure why I’m hitting publish right now.  The release?


This morning, we were sitting in a Starbucks at 9:30 am when I looked at the clock and said to Josh, “Ten years ago, in this minute, my coworker was on the phone with a student’s parent when the Pentagon was hit by the plane.  He just screamed, ‘we’ve been hit!’ and the line went dead.”

I can’t think of many times — of personal or national importance — where I could tell you not only what I was doing, but what other people were doing too in the minutes leading up to the event.  I don’t even know why my brain remembers everyone else’s story too, but it does.  I can tell you who was at work and who was on their way to work and who was on the telephone.

The parent that was on the phone lived.  A parent who was not on the phone with us did not.  It is so strange to know the minute he died; a piece of information that feels so intimate.  I cannot tell you the time anyone else in my life has died; people incredibly important to me.  Days, yes.  Minutes, no.  But at 9:37 am today, I just stared at Josh and said, “I can’t believe that it has been ten years now since this minute.”


My entire marriage is contained within the confines of September 11th.  We got married a few weeks after the planes hit.  By the time I walked down the aisle, we had entered Afghanistan.  Some people drove rather than fly to the wedding.  We wondered if we should cancel the honeymoon.

Before the wedding, the rabbi counseled us that we should sign an additional document which would allow one of us to remarry in the future in our body couldn’t be located.  It was a very real problem facing some 9/11 widows; the inability to produce a body for burial left them in limbo.  It was unfathomable that we had to think about signing such a document, but that’s the way the world was a few weeks after September 11th.  We didn’t know what was going to happen next.

We started our marriage with the world on-edge.

It will be our tenth anniversary in a few weeks.  It is impossible for my brain to untangle the two events because the first so closely informed and guided the other.  We would not have started trying to have children when we did if not for a widow’s story in the New York Times’ Portraits of Grief series.

Josh had left the newspaper on the kitchen table, and I read a few of the portraits.  One stood out for me, perhaps because the girl was around my age and newly married.  She had gotten married in August and on September 11th, her ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, was still at the framers.  Her husband was gone before she had ever gotten to hang up her ketubah.

After our wedding, I wouldn’t let anyone take our ketubah for framing.  After the honeymoon, before we returned to work, I went to the framer with Josh and my inlaws and begged the man to frame it while I waited.  I explained the story of the widow and since it was right after 9/11, the framer understood and allowed me to hang out near the store while he worked rather than give him the customary week to frame the picture.  We took it home and put it right up on the wall.

Last night, I thought I heard something scuttling on the wall over my head.  Josh turned on the lights, trying to locate the source of the noise.  He took the ketubah off the wall to check underneath, and there was something so frightening about seeing the ketubah off the wall, even if it was just for a few seconds.  I can’t really explain it except that I associate that piece of art with September 11th, with how our lives so deeply affect other people.  This woman doesn’t know me and I don’t know her, but her life has so deeply informed my own.

A few months after our wedding, we decided to forgo the year we thought we would take before we started trying to have children.  The story of that widow kept informing our decisions, and I really have her to thank for the twins.  Without her story, we would have waited.  So in a strange way, her husband lives on with our twins since her words about him are what brought us to treatments to create them.  I wish I could find that story again, look up this widow and tell her how much her story has changed the course of my life.  I am so grateful to them; so sad for them.  I cannot fathom what she is thinking today, ten days later.  But I wanted to send out this thank you to her, even if it doesn’t reach her.

If anyone finds her story in the Portraits of Grief series, I would appreciate it if you would pass along her name to me.  I’ve never been able to find it again.


Thank you to Sue and Jjiraffe who found the article for me.  I miss-remembered two points that I was using in my Google search over the years — it was in the Washington Post and not the NYT, and her wedding was in March, not August.  I wavered on the decision to write her, not wanting to do anything that could potentially cause her any extra pain, but in the end, sent her a handwritten note.  I wish her only the best in life; my heart is with her this week.


1 Maria { 09.11.11 at 2:24 pm }

Wow….this touched me just like the hundreds of other stories I’ve heard about that day. I saw on the news about a girl writing that she was in 5th grade when the attacks happened. I was in 5th grade when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster happened. I still remember everything seeming as if it was moving in slow motion. And yet, something so disastrous as 9/11 has improved your life in this way as it has so many others. It’s still amazing to me.

2 Kathy { 09.11.11 at 3:14 pm }

I am glad you hit “publish” and hope that sharing this was a release for you.

I never tire, though it is very emotionally draining, of reading and hearing the stories of other people’s personal experiences on 9/11 and how the events of that day have changed the course of their lives since.

My heart goes out to everyone who lost loved ones on 9/11 and I am grateful to the many who have been able to make some good come from the overwhelming tragedy that took place in our nation and our world that day.

Thanks again for sharing your story. It warms my heart that 9/11 brought your children to you and Josh sooner than they might have otherwise joined your family. xoxo

3 Becky { 09.11.11 at 3:24 pm }

There seems to be something about 9/11 that makes me need/want to know where everyone was, what they were doing. It certainly is a day that I remember with a clarity of no other day in my life. Thank you for sharing this.

4 Melissa { 09.11.11 at 3:27 pm }

Oh, I hope this wonderful post finds that woman ….

5 jodifur { 09.11.11 at 4:13 pm }

We got married right before Sept 11 and were on our honeymoon during Sept 11 and I remember feeling the same way, that we stayed our marriage when the world was in peril. It is such an odd way to start.

6 a { 09.11.11 at 5:55 pm }

Wow. My stories about 9/11 are mostly shock and horror, a dash of fear, and minor inconveniences (my husband had to go to Afghanistan 9 months later, so there is a separation there for me). Your stories and your personal connections to the events – that’s why you had to hit publish.

7 Chickenpig { 09.11.11 at 6:11 pm }

Thank you for your story. My husband and I were also married in September, but in 1996. On September 11th I was home watching TV because of infertility. My husband had scheduled an in office procedure to try and find the cause of pain he was experiencing, and perhaps find the cause/solve our infertility issues. The urologist had rescheduled the procedure, but I had to move heaven and Earth to get the two days off, so I took them. I remember I was incredibly miffed that my husband had gone to work, naturally I expected him to take the day off with me…it was such a beautiful day. It turned out his procedure was delayed until February because they were doing no elective procedures because of depleted blood banks after 9-11.

2001 was the year of our 5th anniversary, this year will be our 15th. I will never forget how the day reminded me so much of our wedding day, and how upset I was at my husband for not being home with me. After the day was over and my husband finally made it home, I just hugged him like my life depended on it, all forgiven. So many other women and men didn’t get to hug their spouses that night.

8 It Is What It Is { 09.11.11 at 6:20 pm }

So glad you published this (and, really, why not?) and hope that in doing so it makes its way through the Internets and to the woman whose life so deeply touched your own.

9 Battynurse { 09.11.11 at 6:23 pm }

So many things that happened that day affect so many of us and how we see the world today. I’m reminded of that so much this year. More so than many past years. It’s all left me a bit speechless.

10 stephanie { 09.11.11 at 6:31 pm }

I watched the memorials all morning. They were sad and I cried, as I knew that I would. But I felt like it was important. If I had lost a close friend or family member, I would have wanted the world to stop today and remember them for me. With me.

It felt so odd to be watching the memorials and then holding this plump little baby in my arms. It was the juxtaposition that got to me. The sorrow of the faces on TV and then the giggling that was coming from an infant just learning to pull himself up to standing. It broke my heart and then mended the cracks all within the same brief flickering moment.

It’s left me feeling incredibly pensive and I’m not 100 percent what to do with myself at the moment.

11 loribeth { 09.11.11 at 7:47 pm }

(((hugs))) I hope you find that woman. I think all of us can draw some sort of personal connection to the events of 10 years ago, even if we didn’t know anyone personally who was there. Even though I live in Canada, it was a day that hit very close to home for me. My dh & I work in one of the tallest office towers in the financial capital of Canada, he on a trading desk near the top. Watching him get into the elevator the morning of Sept. 12th, I burst into tears, thinking about all the other women’s husbands who got into an elevator the day before & never came down again.

12 Melissa { 09.11.11 at 8:41 pm }

Just saw on Goodreads that there is a revised edition of Portraits 9/11/01: The Collected Portraits of Grief from the New York Times, which has all of the profiles included.

13 Tigger { 09.12.11 at 10:15 am }

I think I found what Melissa was talking about. I’ve been trying to scan it for you, but there’s a LOT of names! http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/sept-11-reckoning/portraits-of-grief.html#/portraits-of-grief/B/171

14 Mel { 09.12.11 at 11:14 am }

I’ve tried scanning the Portraits of Grief for various keywords, but you need to open each letter of the alphabet to do so. It’s slow-going. I haven’t found the one I’m looking for yet.

15 KH99 { 09.12.11 at 12:27 pm }

We got married in 2001 as well but in December and even though we were/are in NC, 9/11 definitely impacted our wedding plans, if not logistically then emotionally. My birthday is 9/9, so every year since it feels weird to celebrate my birthday in the background of the coverage of 9/11.

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.12.11 at 1:13 pm }

“Her husband was gone before she had ever gotten to hang up her ketubah.” This makes me so sad.

But this?
“So in a strange way, her husband lives on with our twins since her words about him are what brought us to treatments to create them.”

Love love love the connection and ongoingness in this statement.

I hope you two find each other. Since you are already connected in a way.

17 {sue} { 09.13.11 at 12:01 am }

I love your connections. I found her. It was actually in the Washington Post. Her husband died at the Pentagon. (The article is archived, so here is a paste.)

“The quiet moments are the hardest,” Devora Pontell says. The moments when she sits alone in what was, on Sept. 10, a newlyweds’ apartment and now, a month later, is something much different.

It was — it is — a work in progress. Still to be hung: the portrait of Devora and Darin on their wedding day. She picked up the photograph only last week. Still to be framed: their ketubah, the traditional Jewish marriage document, which Devora designed to match the stained-glass border her father was making. Less than a month after they married in March, her new husband was transferred to the Pentagon, a lieutenant junior grade working in naval intelligence.

Her parents stayed with her for the first anguished days after the attack. After Darin’s funeral, she went to their home in Howard County. Finally, she returned alone to the apartment in Gaithersburg. She is, after all, a 25-year-old woman, a lawyer who finished a clerkship in late summer and expected at this point to be fully engaged in a job search. She cannot fathom that now.

One evening last weekend, she sat down and watched the video of her wedding. It reminded her of how she had giggled through the ceremony, how handsome Darin was in his Navy dress whites. “It’s comforting to hear him and see him,” she said.

The video continued running through their reception. Family and friends offered greetings and congratulations. There was laughter, happiness and blessings for the future:

“Devora and Darin, we wish you a lifetime of happiness.”

— Susan Levine

18 suzanne { 09.13.11 at 12:43 am }


If Susan found the right person, these links may help you contact her. Good Luck!

19 Mel { 09.13.11 at 9:28 am }

This is her — Sue found the right person. I was so hung up on wrong facts such as that it was in the NYT (it makes a lot more sense that it was the Post since we had a subscription to WashPo back then and not the Times) and the wedding being in August (it was in March) that my Googling never found this story. I am so grateful to read it again. And I would love to tell her how much her words meant to me.

20 Barely Sane { 09.13.11 at 1:13 pm }

I’m glad you posted that. On Sunday – and so far this week really – I have felt comfort by the constant sound of planes (I both live & work close to YVR). We got married 11 days after 9/11. I don’t ever think of one without remembering the other.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author