On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, USDF Connection editor Jennifer Bryant revisits the column she wrote after the tragedy
By Jennifer O. Bryant
The 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, weighs heavily on my mind this week, as it does for so many others. I grew up in the greater New York metropolitan area, and I now live not far from the Pennsylvania county from which many 9/11 victims commuted to their jobs at the World Trade Center. But what hits closest to the bone is the fact that I am married to a pilot who works for one of the airlines whose planes were hijacked.
On the morning of 9/11, we were both, thankfully, at home. Within minutes after the news began unfolding on TV, our phone started ringing—worried friends and family members seeking reassurance that my husband was accounted for. He and other pilots and airline employees in our area would later attend the memorial service for the captain of the United Airlines plane that crashed into the South Tower. I have never before or since seen my husband so badly shaken.
In the midst of the grim aftermath, during which time most everyday activities, including work, seemed frivolous and pointless, I had a magazine to get out. We had just finished a major redesign of USDF Connection, and in my “Ringside” editor’s column I’d planned to give USDF members a breezy overview of the changes. But of course my heart wasn’t in it, and neither I nor anyone else much cared about the topic at that time. Instead I wrote about doing what I always do in times of sadness, grief, or for that matter joy and happiness: I go to the barn.
I went to the barn the afternoon of September 11, 2001, and I wrote about it for the November 2001 issue of USDF Connection. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I thought it might be fitting to revisit both the day and those words. As I reread it, I’m struck by how little has changed. I have a different horse now, but I’m still fundamentally the same person, still seeking to ease my troubled soul at the barn.
I had planned to use this space to talk to you about our editorial redesign of USDF Connection, which debuts in this issue: how graphic designer Laura Carter has given the magazine a complete makeover to make it easier to read and to find what you’re looking for, give it a more contemporary look, and complete its transformation into an eye-catching, attractive vehicle for advertisers and USDF sponsors alike.
My plan—like so many others—got preempted on September 11 with the terrorist attacks on our country. I’m writing this column a week after the tragedies, and for the first time in my editorial career I’m at something of a loss for words with which to fill this space.
Writing about a redesign suddenly seemed inconsequential. In truth, horses and riding in general have seemed less important—which is odd, for until now they’ve meant everything to me.
Yet I found myself, the afternoon of September 11, finally dragging myself away from the TV to go ride my horse. Stunned and in a collective state of disbelief, my barn comrades and I talked for a while, our voices low. Then I found myself in my horse’s stall, mechanically picking his feet, my mind elsewhere, when normally the mere sight of him makes me forget my worries. Unbidden, he pressed his head against my chest and held it there; and we stood, thinking our own thoughts.
Then I groomed him, tacked him up, got on, and for 40 minutes I lost myself in the minutiae of half-passes, flying changes, transitions, and pirouettes. I hosed him off and took him outside to graze and dry in the warm late-summer sun. The air was fresh and sweet. And I took in the fields, hills, and sky of my country as if I hadn’t seen them before—and in a way I hadn’t.
Then I got in the car to drive home, and it all came flooding back. And the same thing happened the next day, and the next. Now my days have taken on a certain pattern. I do my work as best I can, and I watch the news and read the papers and sign up to donate blood and worry about my family’s safety, both physical and economic. And then I go to the barn, and my horse and I observe our own private moments of silence for what we have and for what we have lost.