I just cleaned out a cupboard in my kitchen that was full of food storage water. I wanted to put away some small appliances in a more convenient place, so I decided to start drinking the water, but it was disgusting. I checked the dates, wondering when I bought it, then realized it was about 8 years old. Oh yeah. I remember. Living in Washington D.C. in the season of fear. I moved to D.C. in the summer of 2001, studied for the bar, then started at a law firm located next door to the FBI building on September 1. Two weeks into my adult career I joined people gathered around a t.v. watching footage of planes crashing into the twin towers. When the plane crashed into the Pentagon, a sr. partner walked into the room and told us to evacuate. “Don’t drive, the bridges are closed. Don’t take the metro.” Huh? I had no idea what to do. I walked into a friend’s office and just stared. “I don’t know what to do” I gulped. Ever the practical one, she called around and got in touch with a friend who lived nearby. We grabbed our bags and started walking. The streets were packed, and about a block away from the office, there was a horrible snarl with police lights flashing everywhere. A van had been abandoned in the middle of the road, and everyone was nervous that it contained a bomb. We walked past quickly. Further up the road I ran into an LDS friend from law school. He was just standing on the curb wondering what to do. We invited him to join us. We stopped to loan a cell phone to a sobbing woman who was trying to contact her children. Finally we reached the house of the” friend of the friend of the friend” and sat in her living room watching t.v. for hours. At one point my friend from work walked down to the CVS to buy snacks for the full house. She still laughs about running into a gay couple who were also shopping for food, and says they talked about finding comfort in the fact that despite national security emergencies, it was still important to be a good host. I finally made my way home by the now-running metro and like the rest of America sat glued to my t.v. all day.
Suddenly having food storage seemed an imperative. I bought the canned protein, veggies, bottled water, etc. I also stocked up on duct tape, ready to make that airtight room before someone on the news said….”um, not such a good idea because you’ll suffocate.” I still don’t let my gas tank get below half full, just in case I need to evacuate.
Just as the sense of communal fear started fading a year later, the D.C. sniper attacks started. In all, ten people were killed and three critically injured in the three week killing spree. At one point a friend and I went on a road trip, and just as we returned to town the sniper hit again, this time in a shopping center near my house. We both cried the rest of the way home, not wanting to enter in a zone of constant fear. Everyone was calling in tips about white mini-vans they had spotted, because of a (now known to be erroneous) lead from eye-witnesses. I bought more food storage.
A few years later, my life changed dramatically when I accepted a job that eventually took me to Afghanistan and I stayed there two years. On September 11, 2007 I found myself speaking at a memorial ceremony at the U.S. Embassy for a work colleague who was killed by a car bomb, and noted that six years earlier, none of us knew that the chain of events started on September 11 would lead to our lives being utterly changed to the point that we were living in Kabul. As clear as my memory is of September 11, 2001, my memory is even clearer of receiving the phone call informing me of my colleague’s death. That still makes me shake.
So here I am, back home, throwing away the last of the food storage. Ironically, most of it expired or rotted while I was in Afghanistan. I remember what it felt like to be scared during that horrible year of 2001-2002, and I remember what it felt like to be constantly thrumming with adrenaline in Afghanistan. But I’m calm and at peace now. Is that odd? I know more about terrorism than I ever did in 2001, having both lived in Afghanistan and having just completed a masters degree in International Security Studies including a class on Al-Qaeda this past semester. I guess what I understand now is probably self-evident to many people–the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are very low, but that’s not the point. The terror is the point. But life rolls on and we live and love and grieve and laugh and hopefully, eventually learn to be still. What a blessing.