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But For the Grace of God
Personal reflections on my (almost) date with destiny

by Kirsten Andersen



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I write this at the end of what is undeniably the most emotional day of my life. Thousands of my fellow citizens have died at the hands of an unknown force, and countless more are injured and/or mourning their loss.

I live less than a mile from the site of the third attack on the U.S., the Pentagon. I gazed at my television in disbelief as the World Trade Center blazed, having just watched live via satellite as a passenger jet filled with Americans accelerated into the South Tower, killing all on board and unthinkable numbers on the ground. Shortly after that, still in shock, I heard a great boom come from outside my townhouse. It did not immediately register that we, too, had been attacked -- it was unthinkable that such evil could happen in two American cities in as many hours. As the live shot on my television set suddenly changed from downtown Manhattan to suburban Arlington, I was sickened. The sound I heard, the impact I felt, was that of even more innocent Americans slamming helplessly into the earth, killing hundreds or even thousands on the ground.

As the morning went on, even the network anchors seemed at a loss for words. With so much damage and so little information, the general feeling of paralyzed terror was overwhelming. Even now, we do not know who committed this atrocity. All we have to rely on is a President who vows to secure justice, and each other.

But there was good news, too, for our nation today. 

Two of the most heartening actions seen today came from our leaders in Washington. The first was a moving rendition of "God Bless America," sung beautifully by none other than our usually-squabbling-and-cranky legislators in the U.S. Congress. Who knew they could sing?

The other noble action taken by our leadership was President Bush's acknowledgement of God, and his recitation of a portion of Psalm 23. In this time of fear and mourning, the President should rely on his faith to see himself and the nation through. I am pleased he chose not to bury his faith in the interest of political correctness.

Stories of bravery and generosity also abounded as citizens joined together to make the best of a surreal and horrifying situation. Several passengers on hijacked planes risked their immediate safety and their lives to call associates and family on the ground and warn them of what was about to happen. Such people were selfless and courageous, knowing that they could have been shot down in defense or killed by hijackers for their actions. Among these was Barbara Olson, a beautiful and brilliant woman whom I had the pleasure to meet previously on several occasions. Her loss, while no more senseless than that of the other passengers', will be felt by many in Washington.

In my county of Arlington, Virginia, there were four-to-six hour lines at the Red Cross and area hospitals -- not for Pentagon injuries, but regular, healthy citizens. Nobody asked them to come, they simply showed up -- they wanted to give their blood.

In New York, rescuers have uncovered the bodies of many public safety officers who rushed into the burning towers to help the injured, but were trapped when the unstable, 110-story skyscrapers imploded. These brave souls risked their lives to help people who had very little chance of surviving the day. I trust they will be honored for years to come.

Those of us left physically unscathed are flooded with mixed feelings. On a personal note, I actually had two near-misses today. The first came at 9:43 this morning, when a Boeing passenger jet screamed up the expressway next to my home and crashed 3/4 of a mile away, killing everyone on board and even more inside the Pentagon. The second was when I realized that I could very easily have been on that jet, having been invited to appear on ABC's Politically Incorrect Tuesday night, but ultimately choosing to fly out next week (I wanted time to get a haircut and a new outfit). Had I chosen to appear Tuesday night, I would certainly have been on Flight 77, as a P.I. producer reminded me when we spoke yesterday. It's amazing the things that can save a person's life -- in my case, a combination of vanity and the grace of God. 

As we all deal with a curious mix of survivors' guilt and unabashed thankfulness for our spared lives, we forget politics for the day and turn to patriotism. If we can stand together not just today, but forever against those who would threaten our freedom, we may just keep this country great. But in all of this suffering and attempts to overcome it, one thing is clear: nothing will ever be the same again.

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