September 11, 2001, 8:52 a.m. As I leisurely walk up the marble stairwell to the office, I am startled as an impeccably dressed woman rushes past me at breakneck speed. She is weeping uncontrollably. This is an unbearable, shocking sight, and it freezes me in place for an instant, wondering what in high heaven could be occurring?professionals never lose total control in public. I want to stop her, question her, give her a hug or any comfort or support, but she continues down the steps leaving behind only the quick, sharp clicks of her high heels and stifled sobs.

Earlier that morning, I woke up before dawn. I’d gotten into the groove of going to crew practice, to be a coxswain for some terrific rowers. Each day on the Potomac River, we watched a warm sunrise over the stately Washington skyline on one side of the river and heard airplanes flying overhead around Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on the other. Afterwards, I would head back home to prepare for my internship at the office of Congresswoman Ellen O. Tauscher (D-CA). This was my routine, and I cherished it.

We all take comfort in life’s little routines. I had to give up crew after September 11. Yet, I cannot complain. September 11 forced so many others to relinquish far more than I did. I vividly remember how traumatic the day was in Washington, D.C. The streets were clogged with cars and people, many who were visibly distressed, wondering if there would be another attack. I think back on what would’ve happened to me if I actually led that morning tour of the Capitol building, if Flight 93 hadn’t crashed in Pennsylvania and did fly into either the Capitol or the White House. I’ve been lucky, while so many others haven’t.

It all seems surreal, how quickly our foundations can crack. But, time acts as a buffer. Months passed and I threw my memories on the back burner in my mind. Of course, whenever it was mentioned, or whenever I was confronted with questions about September 11, I remembered that it was one of the most terrible days I’ve lived through. Not surprisingly, the more time that passed, the more detached I became.

Then, when you least expect it, something will trigger your nightmares. During the early hours last Sunday morning, I began reading a Washington Post article about how survivors and families of Pentagon victims are coping. Almost halfway into the article, I noticed a familiar name ? Lt. Col. Ted Anderson.

Lt. Col. Anderson, a congressional liaison, was a frequent visitor to Congresswoman Tauscher’s office. He would often stop and chat with me. Anderson became a celebrated hero after September 11 for rushing into the Pentagon inferno to save victims. Everything in the article describing his heroism is entirely true, because he told me his story. I choked up remembering his description of the burning man he saved.

All my memories flooded back. I thought about how difficult it was to call my parents to tell them that I wasn’t hurt. I remembered the long hours my younger cousin and I spent glued to the television. I spoke with a next-door neighbor who was working beside the Pentagon that day. She swore she saw faces of passengers on the plane as it crashed into the building. When I went outside, an eerie silence had swallowed Washington, D.C. and lasted the rest of the week as though the city’s population had vanished. On Sept. 12, I was fortunate to take a tour of the White House. And I felt a solidarity, a unifying force that bound the residents of D.C., as well as the nation, like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Unspoken, I could almost hear,”We’re all in this together, and we’re going to do the best we can to survive it and move on.”

That feeling transcends patriotism. The cohesive spirit that’s re-saturated the air is ingrained in our being. Nobody wants to stand alone or be forgotten.

If there’s a lesson I’ve taken from my experience, it is that we must always remember, but together continue to progress and create.

Schroeder can be reached at

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