Sunday, September 8, 2013

That Time I Was On CNN Looking Like a Drowned Rat

To end my 9/11 memories series, let's go back to the two days after the attacks. As I mentioned before, we all returned to work the day after and in the middle of secondary alarms and everything else, my office learns that the President is planning to hold a Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral.

The next day.

And we needed to help with a large chunk of the guest list.

And it's like 4:00 in the afternoon already.

Well, so much for taking a moment to recover from a terrorist attack in your city!

So we go to work immediately. Our job is to contact leaders in religious organizations and coordinate getting their tickets to them the next morning.

And us interns start calling people on behalf of the President.

To this day, that is still one of the coolest moments for me. I called the head of the Salvation Army on behalf of the President. His wife excitedly called him to the phone because clearly *I* was important.

I was 21 at the time.

Living in a two bedroom, one and a half bath apartment with five other girls, in a bad part of the city.

I ate for free at receptions whenever I could and did a food service gig at a football game for extra money.

But for that moment, I was representing the leader of the free world. Ridiculous.

I made only a couple calls before I realized that I could actually serve the cause more with my fast typing skills and I volunteered to take over the data entry portion of our operation as we struggled to find contact information and log tickets in an excel spreadsheet at warp speed.

Hey don't worry about me, guys. Go ahead and call Billy Graham on behalf of the President of the United States. I'd rather TYPE!

Me=not so great at decision making.

We continue late into the night, me typing away hearing my fellow intern yell things like "If Pat Robertson calls for me, tell him I'll be right back!" and we miraculously do pull off our job. We then wake up early the next morning and start handing out tickets.

In the rain.

Because this feat wasn't challenging enough as it is.

Funny enough, one ticket I gave was to my now pastor Mark Batterson. A man I would later camp with in the middle of Ethiopia while we were surrounded by lions and monkeys.

Life is so strange.

Another ticket I gave was to famed Redskins football player, Darrell Green. I literally handed his ticket to him through the window of his car as he drove past me in the rain. That is how frantic this whole operation was.

The last person I remember handing a ticket to?

Jerry Falwell.

So it was quite the day already.

When we finished that task, we ourselves loaded into giant white Martz busses and were taken through the city by police escort to get to the Cathedral just in time for the event to start.

Did I mention this event included nearly every living U.S. president at the time and pretty much every VIP that could possibly get there?

So there was a tiny bit of security. Our buses had to drop us off quite a ways away. So me and my fellow interns trudged, in our suits, in the rain, into the cathedral and were all seated in various spots among the crowd.

Finally. We could relax. And start crying (at least I did) as famous opera singers sang hymns and Billy Graham and President Bush and others spoke.

After it was over, I went to find another intern while other people tried to gather around Presidents Clinton and Bush Senior. As I walked up to my fellow intern Steve, he blurts out "I saw you on t.v.!"

I'm sorry, what was that?

Apparently, Steve was sat behind a column where he could sort of see the stage but also had a television monitor showing the live news coverage of the event. I had been seated on the edge of a row along the middle aisle and apparently, right when my rain-flattened head was tilted to one side as I was crying during a hymn --

CNN panned in on me.

And thus my tired, drowned little face filled television screens across the country for a couple seconds.

Incidentally, that wouldn't be the worst I've looked on television. During Bush's second election, I was at the official election party all night while we awaited the results (which didn't come until the next morning) when I raced home, changed clothes, didn't shower, raced back for the news that we won -- and was promptly interviewed for Channel 1. My sleep-deprived, disheveled mess of a self, babbled on about the win before wandering back to the party. I never saw the footage but I can only imagine what I looked like. Thankfully that channel is only broadcast throughout public schools across the nation and not on regular television...

When we got back to our homes, I was flooded with calls and emails from friends and family members all over the country who had been shocked to see me on the news. Some of my aunts in Washington State said that seeing me unexpectedly somehow gave them comfort in the midst of all the scary, horrifying events that week so I've always thought that was God's doing, because goodness knows why CNN chose me to pan in on me in a room full of people. (And if you ever want to do that again, CNN, could ya give a girl a heads up so she can fluff her hair or something?)

In the end, obviously the events of that week changed every American's life, but it personally changed mine in so many ways. Being at the White House when all of that went down; later serving in the office that was literally creating the new Department of Homeland Security due to the attacks; meeting service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who were wounded in the wars that ensued because of those attacks -- it's like 9/11 has been woven into my life ever since. That's why, when Bin Laden was finally taken out, I raced to the White House to celebrate there with one of the girls I interned with so many years before. It felt personal.

And while I don't still have the Jumbo in my apartment, and I'm not sure where the video is of my brief moment on national news, I'll always have these memories of when I was miraculously fortunate enough to be able to be so close to history. And every September, I remember them all again.


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