One of the most profound experience I had as a meeting planner was on September 11, 2001.
While on route to San Antonio, TX to advance company-sponsored events and client meetings as part of a national conference the company was participating in, I found myself (among thousands of others) stranded in Dallas early that morning awaiting a connecting flight when I learned the airport was being locked down to any further air traffic due to the indescribable cataclysm unfolding in NYC and elsewhere.
It was my faith and my ability to focus on the present that helped keep me on track as I worked through the next steps.
After calls to family to let them know where I was and that I was safe, I realized very quickly a couple of things: 1) I needed to leave the airport ASAP; and 2) I needed to find a place to stay – a home base to think and work from -- because in all likelihood I would not be going on to San Antonio nor would I be going back to Minnesota any time soon.
I knew from past experience that when events around me seemed to be spinning out of control, I needed to not just react but to step back as soon as possible and reassess the situation.
So, my next call was to corporate travel to book a hotel room from where I would await word on the status of the conference (it was later postponed), begin to reconstruct my own plan and eventually chart my journey back home.
It wasn’t until I was settled at the hotel a few hours later that I actually became aware of the significance of what had happened that morning.
I remained in Dallas for the next two days considering options for my return to Minnesota. It sounded like airport traffic was going to open up on Saturday but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wait; and, if I did wait and planes starting to fly again, would I actually be able to get a seat.
Driving was also an option. However, I wasn’t sure rental cars would be available considering the incredible amount of people left stranded due to airport closures.
On top of that I had never driven long distances on my own, hadn’t yet heard of GPS, and wasn’t all that good with maps. My only saving grace was that Minnesota was a straight shot up I-35 from Dallas, and that I had God and a very special Guardian Angel on my side. With that, I decided to take a giant leap of faith and go for it.
Luckily, I was able to secure a rental car but had to go back to the airport to claim the car. (This was the closest rental office to where I was staying.)
The drive to the airport was so strange: the skies so quiet, so eerie; and there was little vehicle traffic going into or out of DFW. This was a recurring feeling throughout the drive home as well. It was surreal.
I listened to public radio all the way back home for company and to stay up on current events. I wasn’t in the mood for music; I simply wanted to hear people's voices. I kept in constant contact with my parents, my son and my co-workers throughout the next three days (when I wasn’t driving, of course).
I will always remember the first words I heard from my son when I called him from the airport to let him know what had happened: “Thank goodness, you’re on the ground.” He knew I was traveling that day and that I was flying, but had forgotten where; and, he'd also heard the news reports, so he was very aware. The joy and relief I heard in my parent’s voices each time we connected on my drive home was also very special.
I will never forget what happened that day and have been back to Manhattan numeroustimes since – a number of times on the anniversary of 9/11. On those occasions, I was always struck by how mesmerized I became as I sat and watched the remembrance services on TV and how blessed I was to be so safe and secure. And, I will never forget the many that did not make it home or the sacrifices of the police, fire and first responders.