[Embracing the Memory: Library 
of Congress Professional Association]


When Everything Changed

Margaret Holley

September 11, 2001

I was planning to go on a tour of the Hilton Community Garden on Capitol Hill at noon on September 11. The tour was organized by the LCPA Forum on Gardens and Landscape Design and we were supposed to bring our own lunches plus dishes to share, so we could have a picnic. I got up early that morning, since I had not yet concocted anything. I quickly improvised a bean salad using items from my garden and pantry. My lunch and the salad went into a picnic basket, and since I wanted to show off my versatility as a gardener, I loaded my backpack with different kinds of tomatoes I had raised.

It was a beautiful day for a picnic, I thought, as I drove to the Forest Glen subway stop. Late as usual, I ran to catch the train, my body precariously balanced with the backpack, a frontpack and a fannypack, not to mention the picnic basket. Luckily, I found an empty seat on the crowded train and I sat down with the basket and the various packs still attached. I heard something go squish in my backpack and then I remembered the tomatoes!

When I arrived at the Library, it was about 9:30 and I put the bean salad in the refrigerator. When I got to my desk, Vera said, "Oh, Margy, you haven't heard yet. Terrorists have hijacked two planes and flown them into the World Trade Center."

"Oh, my God!" I cried, as a group of people gathered around.

"Look, here it is," Vera said as she called up one of the news web pages on the Internet. "Oh," she gasped. "Now they've hit the Pentagon."

We all stood around in stunned disbelief, not knowing what to do. Then, we found out another plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Someone came down from the cafeteria and said that if you looked out the windows, you could see the Pentagon on fire. Like people who have to slow down while they're driving to look at an accident, some of us had to go upstairs to check it out. Maybe we had to convince ourselves it was really true, or perhaps we had to catch a glimpse of history in the making. On the sixth floor, people were leaving, saying that the cafeteria was closed. I walked to the windows and saw clouds of black smoke in the sky coming from across the Potomac.

As we went back downstairs, people were gradually starting to leave the building and the police were going floor to floor, telling people to evacuate. Before I left, I called my husband, Perry, and left a message on our answering machine. I said to turn on the TV if he hadn't heard the news, that we were being evacuated and I would be home as soon as I could. I started crying, because I wasn't sure if I would get home.

I debated whether I should get the bean salad out of the refrigerator. Would it drag me down if I had to walk a long way or would I need it in case it was hard to get food? Would the beans give me a terminal case of flatulence? I decided to leave the bean salad in the refrigerator.

When I got outside the building, I saw the street overflowing with people trying to get into the Capitol South subway entrance. I wondered if the subway were closed. I saw my friend Marilyn and we decided to walk together to Union Station, hoping the subway stop there would be open and less crowded. We took a detour instead of walking past the Capitol, thinking it might be a target of the terrorists.

"I hope they don't bomb that beautiful Capitol," Marilyn said.

"Or the Library," I added.

The streets and sidewalks were jammed with cars and pedestrians. Once in a while an emergency vehicle got through.

I felt as if I were in a bad dream, but I realized we had crossed a point in history when nothing would be the same. This was like the day President Kennedy was assassinated, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, the day of the 1929 stock market crash, or the day Fort Sumter was fired upon.

When Marilyn and I approached Union Station, we began walking near the building in the direction of the subway entrance. A police officer yelled at us through a megaphone, "Ladies, get away from the building!"

We noticed a crowd of people across the street and were told that Union Station was closed, that there had been a bomb threat.

Then Marilyn said, "Well, Margy, let's just walk to Maryland," as if she were saying, let's walk across the street.

"OK," I said. How many miles was it, I wondered. Six? Eight? Ten?

We walked along North Capitol Street and stopped to get snacks and bottled water from a vendor. We came to a bus stop where we saw Pauline, another friend from the Library. She and a woman from the DC Government were trying to catch a bus to where they lived near Fort Totten. They told us how they thought we could catch a bus into Maryland.

I went with Marilyn into a gas station to get change for bus fare. We had to buy Slim Jims, so they would give us change.

We came back out and waited and waited but no buses came, so we all started walking to the next bus stop. The streets were so crowded with cars trying to get out of town, the buses probably couldn't get through. We walked miles along the bus route and our legs and feet started hurting. I wished that I had on tennis shoes, but I was grateful that I had worn flat sandals instead of high heels. It was comforting to have companions who were friendly and familiar with the area. We walked past row houses and saw an elderly gentleman working in his garden. He smiled and nodded to us, while he listened to breaking news on the radio. Because of fear and uncertainty about the future, it seemed to me that people were trying to be nicer to each other.

At one point Marilyn said, "Margy, we've got to live so we can go home and see our husbands and our dogs, and so we can go back to the Greenbelt Writer's Group." For several years, we had enjoyed belonging to a writers' group that met in Greenbelt.

We turned onto Michigan Avenue and walked more miles to Catholic University, where we finally found the subway open. Marilyn, Pauline and the woman from the DC Government and I hugged each other and boarded the train. I took the Red Line to Forest Glen where I got in my car and drove to my house. It had taken me four hours to get home, whereas it usually takes one, but I was thankful to be alive.

I went inside and told Perry and Louise, my mother-in-law, that I was OK.

"We were so worried about you," they said.

The TV was on and we kept seeing footage of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. I cried for all the people who were murdered and I felt a surge of love for my country and fellow citizens. I realized the passengers who made the plane crash in Pennsylvania might well have saved my life and that of many others. The intended target was very possibly the Capitol. The hijackers, who weren't very good pilots, might have hit the Library of Congress across the street instead. And what about the plane that crashed into the Pentagon? At first, it had circled around the Capitol and the White House, before it crashed into the Pentagon where it didn't do nearly as much damage as it might have. Were some of the passengers on that flight heroes too? Did they prevent a worse tragedy from happening?

October 14, 2001

I went to church and noticed that it has been packed every Sunday since the attack. We pray for victims and their families, our country, our leaders, our armed forces, the police and firefighters and the heroes on the airplanes. We pray for our enemies. Pastor Larry said in one of his sermons that we could admire the hijackers for their clever use of resources and that we should be equally clever in using our own resources to seek justice but not revenge.

I keep wishing we could go back to a time when all we were worried about were things like: where is Chandra Levy, why are so many sharks attacking people off the coast of Florida, and how can we get rid of rats in the District? I am trying to get back to normal, but I know things will never be the same.

July 4, 2002

Cold watermelon on a steamy day, juice drips from my lips.
I write in my notebook and my friend reads her magazine, while the dog Te Amo drinks melted
ice cubes under a picnic table.
I got the nerve to get on a plane and fly away--here I am in Arkansas on Independence Day!
Old and young, black and white, Native Americans, my fellow Americans, my brothers and
sisters, they fish in the river, while crows watch from power lines and husbands ride their bicycles.
O Great Spirit, keep our country safe, let our families be OK, protect my friends at LC and all the
folks back in DC.
Trees wearing kudzu blow in the breeze, mingling smells of melon and water lilies
near the river, where the green grass grows and over the dam, the water flows
while clouds like elephants fly through a pink-tinted sky and geese honk at cars driving by.
We eat crackers and hummus, carrots and chicken salad, have caffeine-free Cokes and a
sugar-free dessert, while the dog Te Amo gets handouts under the picnic table.
O Great Creator, we give you thanks for this food, this beautiful day, and all our many blessings.
Sky turns the water orange and gold, turquoise, violet and crimson, and at dark, fireflowers grow
and crackle, sizzle and whistle, as they look down at themselves in the mirror.
To One who brought us peace today, please hold us tight throughout the night and keep us close
for now, for tomorrow and forever.


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