"There's another plane lost from radar. They scrambled jets from Andrews. Get out. Get out. Get out".
Those were the words of a Capitol Hill policeman who opened our office door in one of the U.S. House of Representatives office buildings next to the iconic dome of the Capitol building. Our staff had been glued to the TV for the morning watching footage from NY and catching word about the Pentagon. Some of the Capitol Hill offices were closing and leaving, but until those words were spoken, we were still in a "wait and see" mindset. I picked up the phone to call Shelly, my roommate at the time and my carpool, as she worked on the Senate side. I wanted to let her know we were leaving, and I was riding with Geoff, my coworker, who lived close to us in south Arlington. But, the phone lines were already down. I couldn't reach her.
Luckily, I had already called my family, still living in New Mexico. I was able to get through to them to let them know I was ok and we were evacuating, and that I would call again when I could. The next few minutes were a hushed and adrenaline-filled blur as Geoff and I went down the marbled stairs to the parking garage. I remember looking out of the window of Geoff's Pontiac at the Capitol Policemen directing traffic and onlookers as we drove out and down the street away from the Capitol. I think it was the first time in my life I felt the real gravity of someone staying behind in a dangerous situation in order to help me get to safety. For the next two hours or so, we tried to drive the 3 miles to get home, unable to reach Geoff's wife on my cell phone because the lines were all still jammed.
What continues to impress me most about that day 11 years ago is how transparent a person's true character is in a time of crisis. Stories of heroism and generosity abound surrounding 9/11. There are two closest to my heart....
1.) As stated above, I couldn't reach Shelly by phone. We had driven in to work together that morning. We both had a parking spot on our respective sides of Capitol Hill and we alternated weeks of who drove. 9/11/01 fell on Shelly's week to drive. Her car was on the Senate side. I evacuated from the House side. I didn't find out the remainder of the story until later in the day, back at the townhouse the four of us rented. Even through the horrendous traffic, I made it home before Shelly did. Shelly was the last of the four of us to get home. I will never forget the look on her face when she walked through the front door and saw me on the couch or the collective emotional breakdown I felt in our living room.
You see... in those moments of crisis, Shelly's thoughts turned to me. She left her Senate office building and ran across Capitol Hill (not a small distance) to my building in an attempt to get me so we could leave together. She could have just gotten in her car and left, and hoped I figured out a way to get home. But, that's not who she is. She postponed her own exodus to try to find me and take me with her. When she got to my building, she was told it was closed. She couldn't go in. I can only imagine the feelings she must have had at that moment. She turned back towards the Senate side, and eventually got to her car, endured the traffic, and arrived at home: all the while, feeling a deep anxiety and uncertainty over my safety.
Shelly is now married and approaching her 5th anniversary. She has four precious little girls. It's been a long long time since we've really talked about that day, it is hard to do. But in our own ways, we let each other know that we still remember. I hope someday, when her girls are older, they understand what a hero their Mom was on 9/11. She wasn't on CNN. She's not engraved in stone on a memorial. But, she was the perfect example of sacrifice, duty and concern for others. That's who she is. There may not be occasion to exemplify it every day. But, on the day it most mattered, it was the core of her character that was exposed.
2.) I still can't even think, type or talk about United Flight 93 without my throat tightening and my eyes filling with tears. National heroism to take a stand? Sure. But, I've never viewed it like that. It was their heroism that saved ME that day. It was the hardest part about going back to work the next day with a brave face. It changed my world view. I still grapple sometimes with the feeling of indebtedness and a need to live worthy of their sacrifice. A year ago today, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, my sweet husband, who was then just a boyfriend, flew out to attend the ceremony in Shanksville, PA with me. It meant so much for me to be on that ground, to feel my respects were more fully paid, and to shake the hand of a family member to tell them that there aren't words to match my feelings. I just hope they know how completely and wholly grateful I am to the sacrifice of their loved ones and that they will never, ever, be forgotten.
I do hope you find a couple quiet moments today to remember those who were lost on that day, those who were heroes on that day, and all of the goodness you have inside of you, no matter how often you have the chance to let it be seen by others.
At Shanksville, 9/11/11
Knowing my man in uniform and I first laid eyes on each other toward the end of June a year ago, I began looking through my email history to establish an anniversary. I imagine the coming weeks and months will be full of many of these little markings. Today is the first of them.
On this day, one year ago, my husband and I "met". In the interest of full disclosure, it was eHarmony that introduced us. I still have that email from 6/21/2011 that starts off, "*** from Fort Leavenworth, KS requests communication with you". And, so it began. We've commented several times over our marriage how uncanny the matching abilities of the site were. We just really are very well-suited for each other.
I never expected to actually meet my husband online. I was only on eHarmony to convince myself that I was still "out there" in the dating world. Between working a Presidential and a statewide campaign back-to-back followed by moving to a smaller town and starting nursing school killed my social life. I was enjoying my reprieve from the stresses of dating, with plans to move to the Seattle area after graduating. After making my home somewhere in the Puget Sound, establishing a job with Harborview (loose inspiration for Grey's Anatomy), and getting some whale watching under my belt, I would finally feel like resuming romantic pursuits.
I had been on other online dating sites. I can only sum up those experiences by saying I met some truly crazy men. And, by crazy, I mean legitimately, diagnosably, and quite evidently mentally unstable. I also met inappropriate ones. I still firmly believe that the quality of single women on dating sites far exceeds that of the men. But, I liked that eHarmony weeded out the crazies. It costs money to communicate. It takes time and effort to go through the personality evaluation. It was an entirely different ballgame.
So, today, I give credit to the eHarmony logarithms. For me, they made a world of difference. Maybe one day we’ll get around to submitting a video to be one of those couples you see on the commercials.
I know I still owe you more on the gardening. I’ll now also owe you the tale of our first date, which is the next anniversary coming up. Incidentally, for you trivia nuts out there, today is also the date in history on which New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the constitution, thus giving us the needed number to officially embrace it. Good on ya, NH!
I’ve been in love with dusk for at least 15 years, since its magical pink glow lit up the Rocky Mountains in my college years. It’s still my favorite time to go outside and water the garden.
We live on Post, and so our gardening space is sparse. I do believe in blooming where you’re planted though, pun intended. So, I bought seeds from the Exchange this spring, and now we have an assortment of veggies taking up residence in the soil around the house. Watering has become more fun in the last week as beans and squash have been ready to pick and each day brings more tiny tomatoes to ripen and miniature cucumbers that resemble gherkins.
I hate to say it, but last night I had the realization that vegetables are more rewarding than children. Less than two months ago, I put some seeds into the ground. With minimal time commitment since then, I am already reaping benefits.
My efforts with my kids began six months ago, nearly three times longer than with my zucchini. My time investment in them is infinitely more than with the vegetables. But, dangit, wouldn’t you know it? They’re still not ripe.
Parenthood is about tending and weeding and watering and pruning. It’s about trying to make your soil hospitable to growth. It’s about wishing and hoping. Sometimes, it’s trusting nature and God to make up for your oversights. I’m only six months into this whole institution, but the biggest challenge I’ve identified is being patient in the ripening process.
I need to do better at basking in that proverbial magical dusk pink glow and witness the growth. Because, I still believe that these five kids are going to turn out to be the best veggies I’ve ever worked with.
Tomorrow’s post will feature pictures from our garden and vignettes of how the kids’ personalities line up with the veggies. Join the conversation on Facebook by clicking the link to the right.
I've been a little misty-eyed for the last week or so, because of my dad's birthday. He's been gone for almost two and half years. I attempted his favorite, lemon meringue pie, again. And, again, the execution of a firm lemon layer elluded my culinary prowess. I believe this is Dad's joke on me.
My Perfect Meringue and Soupy Lemon Pie - Still tastes yummy!
In his honor, I present you with an essay I wrote for our state nursing association publication last year. I hope it gives you a little more carpe for your diem too.
During a drive to Richmond, though, I had little thoughts running through my head of little ways to progress, small things I could do to begin digging out from this hole, prayers being answered. Now that I've acted on them, I actually feel pretty good.
A few moments ago, I began preparing for bed. As the thoughts of what I had done today and what was ahead tomorrow passed, I could almost hear Dad's voice clearly say, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."
One of my Facebook followers, and fellow step mom, recently asked me about how it works with the possibility of deployment and juggling the kids’ between birth parents and the step parent. I will say, up front, that this is something I have not yet dealt with. Fort Leavenworth is the only Army life I’ve known so far, and I joined this family well into my husband’s career as an Officer.
My husband has full custody of his kids. Right now, even if he were to deploy, the kids’ birth mother isn’t in a position to take them. I would shoulder the 5 of them on my own. No matter how stoic or capable I may seem, I do not want that to happen. On one hand, I still don’t even really think of myself as a parent – much less a single parent to five. And, on the other hand, I really love my husband, and I can’t bear the thought of him being gone for an extended period of time. I need the comfort of his hugs at the end of long days.
The selfish part of me thinks that there are other families who haven’t been through what ours has that could endure that hardship better than we could. But, that’s not my call to make, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that I wish that upon anyone else. At the end of the day, I hope the Army sends the right soldiers for the right jobs.
In my limited time though, I’ve learned two very important things.
1. A soldier’s legal house needs to be in order at all times and especially before deployment.
2. The Army, and I’m sure other branches also, have come a long way in providing support and resources to soldiers and their family members.
Each family will find their own solution. Each divorce court and custody/ visitation decision will be different. Here are a couple of resources I would direct anyone with these kind of issues or questions to:
Have any of you had experience with this? Tell us about it in the comment section below or on my Facebook page via the icon to the right.
Prior to our wedding, I had lived on my own for five years. I spent five glorious years without a roommate, aside from a cat. I knew what was mine and where it was. If there was a mess, I only had myself to blame. No one ate my food unless I invited them over to my place and cooked for them. I watched what I wanted to watch on the TV.
My, how times have changed.
At various times, I have attempted to keep a vestige of items that are mine only and not for general community use. These are feeble attempts. These items are things I don’t think anyone else would be interested in anyway. For example, my Diet Dr. Pepper. No one else drinks diet soda. It is generally safe. Unless, of course, I have set one in the freezer to be the perfect amount of frosty when the kids are in bed to enjoy winding down a long day. In which case, it will end up missing. I live in a house of carnivores, and I’m nearly vegetarian. I can buy and stock beef, chicken, turkey bacon, regular bacon, and hot dogs, and someone will still sneak and eat my veggie burgers.
The most humorous similar occurrence took place around our dinner table on Sunday evening. As I was reaching over to place the pitcher of water on the table, my nose caught a whiff of a familiar scent.
“Is that my honeysuckle lotion? Is that MY HONEYSUCKLE, discontinued, they don’t even make that scent anymore, last bottle and deeply treasured by ME and has been missing for two weeks lotion?” I asked my 17 year old stepson.
His face gave him away, and he apologized. He said his skin felt dry. I reminded him I had a few other unscented, and thus more manly, options.
How about you? Do you manage to keep something aside for yourself? How in the heck do you succeed? Click on my Facebook Page icon to the right and join the conversation.
For Memorial Day, I decided to weave together an old journal entry of mine that I recently rediscovered and my walk tonight.
Monday May 29, 2000 – Arlington, VA
“Well, I’ve been in Washington for just over a week now. I thought I’d be betraying the feelings I had previously if I didn’t make the most of Memorial Day. So, here I am at Arlington National Cemetery. I couldn’t come up with a more perfect place.
I’m sitting at a bench at Memorial Amphitheater (aside: a man in a Navy uniform just walked by with his 3 young children. They follow him so closely, imitating soldiers and looking up at him with an inexplicable admiration pouring from their faces. It really embodies my emotions for my father).
I’m waiting to see the changing of the Guard again. But, with the crowd already assembled for the 3:30 ceremony, I’m probably going to be early for the 4:00.
I parked at a side road and hopped a wall in the cemetery. A little irreverent, perhaps, but it initiates a familiar warmth and comfort I feel. After all, I’m a native now. As I walked along the old trees swaying in the breeze and the tidy rows of white headstones, I felt surrounded by friends and protected. I can’t help but know in my heart that this is precisely how each of these guardians of freedom would want me to feel. (emphasis added) Their service to this country is what makes this feeling possible for all Americans. Sometimes I’m still blown away by my blessing of being born in the U.S. I’m truly thankful every day for that. “
Sunday May 27, 2012 – Fort Leavenworth, KS
Tonight, after a dinner of corn chowder and homemade whole wheat bread, I took a walk. I needed some time to make a long overdue phone call to my dear friend Angela. I took a different route than my usual and began dialing. Instead of circling the golf course, I walked the roads around the national cemetery on post grounds. The flags were already in place, but I began noticing several that had fallen over already. As I walked and talked, I began to trace the rows in search of downed flags. I took a couple seconds to drive each of them back into the soil.
I don’t mean to make more of my small action that it was, but it struck me that it was symbolic of what Memorial Day is about. It’s a time to say thank you to those who have served. It’s a time to recognize the character of those who made the choice to put their life on the line as their job while most of us complained about our schedule. But, it’s also a time to take that fallen flag and let them know we’ve got it now. We will keep it planted. For our friends, we will carry on with what we share – an affection for this land.
Who am I kidding? I can’t say it any better than Lincoln did.
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg PA. 11/19/1863
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
My Father's Gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery
This afternoon, I'll be taking two of the kids to Munson (Army Medical Center on post) for physicals. I just finished compiling the paperwork to cover them for Boy Scout camp, school sports (at Patton Jr. High and Leavenworth High), and for CYS programs.
22 pages. TWENTY. TWO. I am sitting here with twenty two pages of infomation to fill in, before we even get to the doctor. I guess I can forego the remainder of my to-do list today.
Overall, my experience at Munson has been positive thus far, though. The primary care docs I've interacted with, for myself or for the kids, have been pleasant and knowledgeable. The administrative staff and technicians in Radiology are fantastic. My only current complaint would be the six minute introduction you have to go through on the phone before actually speaking to a person. Ok, so maybe six minutes is an exaggeration. But, it is a very long time.
An object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest stays at rest. – Newton’s first law of motion
I just got back from a walk around the golf course on post. It’s windy. I took my phone to make a couple calls. That was a mistake. Luckily, the people I talked to understood that I was in KS, and cut me some slack. At least it wasn’t a tornado. But, while on that walk, I reflected on all of the changes going on in my life right now, and couldn’t help but have good ol’ Newton on repeat in my subconscious.
You see, you are beginning this peek into my life at a transitional time. For the first five months of our marriage, I put all of my focus into the house, the kids and creating new structure and routines. All of this was needed. It probably still is needed. As far as personal ambitions go, I’ve been an object at rest. However, my downtime moments have been few and far between, as any mom can attest to.
When people asked me, prior to our wedding what my biggest fear was about making the leap from being on my own to being with a big family, I would always say that my biggest fear was losing myself in the mix. I am prone to make self-sacrifices for the greater good. That is a characteristic I’m glad I have. But, the realistic consequence to that habit, is that I sometimes feel quietly resentful. That is a characteristic I’m not so glad to have.
Just in the last month or so, I’ve been realizing that I have a choice. I can be inwardly frustrated over putting myself on hold, and have that sometimes manifest itself as unrealistic expectations on my husband and kids. Or, I can find ways to resume motion on my personal goals. And, that is what I have been choosing.
In the past few weeks, I have entered a weight loss challenge and began working this past Monday. On the walk I just took, I completed my preliminary application for a Master’s program. I am an object in motion.
I’m still figuring out how to make all this work and maintain the time and attention to my family that they deserve. But, I have made peace with knowing that being myself and a good example has to be more productive than nagging.
After a 10 year career in politics and then returning to school, Melissa Hafen is a brand new Army wife, stepmom to five and Kansan.
Melissa attended Brigham Young University and then began her career in Washington as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill. She spent time in the private sector prior to working for a presidential campaign in 2007-8. Following that adventure, she helped the Lt. Governor of Virginia in his reelection campaign as his Political Director.
Through the hospitalization and subsequent death of her father, in 2010, Melissa discovered her strengths and passion lied in nursing. Prior to meeting and marrying her husband, she was in nursing school in VA.
Melissa is also a big sister, an auntie, a dark chocolate connoisseur, an ardent lover of beaches and mountains, and a sewing novice.