How can it be 20 years since that infamous day where time stopped and we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing? It changed everything for all of us.

September 11, 2001 will be something that is etched in our memories for a lifetime.

I was living in Arizona on 9/11 on West Coast time when the rest of my family was on East Coast time. My husband spent his life traveling to and from New York City as a corporate attorney and was in the city at least twice a month. Our phone rang a little before 6 a.m. that day; it was my mother. Barely awake I answered to hear her asking where my husband was.

Startled and confused I answered, “asleep next to me,” followed by “Mom, remember I explained the West Coast time difference – call me later.”

I promptly hung up the phone, only to have it ring again almost immediately.

This time my mother said, “Turn on the TV, do it now, we are being attacked.”

As I turned on the television, I tried to clear my morning vision to see the chaos that was taking place on the newscast. Just as I did, I saw a burning building in New York City, and seconds later what appeared to be a commercial plane flying into one of the twin towers. My husband and I sat up and took notice and didn’t stop watching the news for the next few days. My mom was right, we had been attacked.

It took some time for everyone to realize what had actually happened and why. What mattered when we all first saw the attack on the World Trade Center, was saving lives and making sure that the people that we loved were safe. We had several friends that lived and worked in New York City and the surrounding areas. We immediately tried to reach them, knowing that they could have been in or near the twin towers.

The realization of that was devastating. Not being able to reach them, having their phones go straight to voice mail, made the situation even more helpless. All we could do was wait.

The next few days consumed all of us with a story that no one thought would ever happen. As we sat glued to our TVs, there were amazing things taking place amidst the sorrow and impact of this terrible day. The fireman and the police officers looked like soldiers going into battle as they rushed into burning and collapsing structures to save anyone they could. The other horrible images too sad to even mention, played out for days and days. My husband had a law partner who was standing at his office window across the river from Manhattan that morning on a phone call. He watched helplessly and in horror when he saw planes flying into the twin towers. He stopped talking to those on his call and dropped the phone to the ground and began to cry.

The days to follow became all too real as we watched those searching desperately for their family members. Photos of those missing hung on pieces of paper across New York City. People hoped that anyone would be found in what was now rubble. American flags flew throughout the city and across the nation at half-staff in honor of those lost and while still hoping for others to be found. Stories of heroes young and old came across our television screens. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of news of the ones that were saved and going home.

New York City was not the only tragedy that day. Pennsylvania and the Pentagon would also suffer losses. But they would also have some of the most heroic stories of our time and creative human beings that will remain in our memories forever.

What truly sticks with me in the aftermath would take place on Sept. 20, 2001. Then President George W. Bush would give his second speech to the nation that week. My husband and I were sitting in the Los Angeles airport waiting on a delayed flight for our anniversary. It was a trip we did not think we would be taking after 9/11, but flights had resumed by then. There in that airport came one of the strongest and most determined speeches as our nation faced tragedy. Politics is never something we all agree with, but that night was not about politics. It was about the United States of America standing together as one and facing evil head on.

The President’s speech was brave, strong, powerful and heartfelt. His face was stern as he looked into the camera and told the terrorists watching that they can take down the foundations of a building or implement a plan to destroy, but they cannot take away our freedom. I looked around a somewhat crowded Los Angeles airport and realized there was absolutely no sound. Travelers were watching intently. Grown men and women were crying. It was as if time stood still as President Bush spoke. After all, our freedom as Americans was stolen that day. Life that we took for granted was interrupted.

Looking back on that day 20 years ago, you realize how many things have changed. The way we travel. Security guidelines at airports. Security measures in office buildings and schools. Background checks. Many complain about travel not being fun anymore with the amount of time it takes to get through an airport, and limitations on what size shampoo bottle is allowed in your carry on. While these things do seem frustrating, we have learned from what happened on 9/11.

The last time I was in New York, I was honored to visit the 9/11 Memorial. It is a quiet, haunting reminder of that tragic day 20 years ago. It’s also a reminder of the strength of this nation and what we can do when we work together. The heroism of the firefighters and police officers, and even private citizens who sacrificed their lives to save others. The memorial symbolizes that in every way. Given the chance, please visit this memorial and remember those we lost and the nation that came together.

There will be remembrances taking place throughout the nation as we come upon the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Take the time to honor the fallen, celebrate those that saved lives without hesitation, pray for those that wear a uniform, and come together as a nation to enjoy the freedom we all share. God bless America.

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