I Survived The Twin Towers
How 9/11 Was the Best and Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me
by Leslie Haskin (as told to Natalie Nichols Gillespie)
Before the terrorist attacks known as “9/11,” I thought I was Miss Corporate America. I worked in the Twin Towers in an office on the thirty-sixth floor and was one of only two African Americans in the northeastern region who held an executive position for a major insurance company. I drove a Mercedes Benz, and for me that represented the fact that I had made it. I had gone beyond what most “people like me” achieved. I was careful about choosing my friends, and I encouraged my children to be the same way. My son went to a very prestigious private school in upstate New York, and my life was all about maintaining the status quo. I saw no need to truly surrender my life to Christ; I was making it on my own.
I remember the morning of September 11, 2001, clearly because I was annoyed. There was a problem that needed to be dealt with in another office that I was going to have to visit, so I was going to have to take my old laptop case instead of my Louis Vuitton bag. That annoyed me. I had two goals that morning: to find out who caused the problem and to fire that person. That was basically the way I managed my life until that day. I found out later that my staff called me the “Ice Princess.”
After that morning, everything changed. I’ve got to tell you that anybody who gets that close to death—so close that you can smell its breath—will be changed. It separates what things are important and what things are not important. I walked over body parts, and I saw a man decapitated in mid-sentence. I was staring right at him. You just don’t get that close to the very thin line of life and death without it having an enormous impact on your life. You either become very bitter or you become very clear.
It wasn’t even after September 11 that everything changed. It was by eleven o’clock that morning that it was all gone. That prestigious office, with the imported tile from Italy in the bathroom, was gone. All the little things that we did to make that office something special were just dust in less than an hour. September 11 cost me everything, yet it gave me new life.
By September 12, I was on my way to hitting rock bottom. My job was literally gone. I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) so badly that I spent time in a psychiatric hospital. I developed such a severe stutter that I could not pronounce my own name. I became paranoid and afraid of everything. I thought terrorists were in the backyard, and I could not go into any kind of basement because I was afraid the building would fall down on top of me. I was depressed, and I boarded up my windows. As a single mom, it was very hard on my teen-aged son and daughter.
Because I was unable to work, when the money from the United Way (for 9/11 victims) ran out, my home eventually went into foreclosure. I sold my car and everything I could to stay afloat. Finally, there were just no resources left. My kids and I became homeless. The bottom line was that I needed divine intervention in my life to be able to start all over again. And thatÕs exactly what happened.
The journey for me began one night after I came home from the (mental) hospital. I wasn’t sleeping well or eating. I was just a basket case. My son, who was then thirteen years old, came into my room and sat on my bed and asked me if I wanted to ask Jesus Christ to be my savior. He told me that if I was lukewarm about God, he would spit me out of his mouth.
At that time, I used to say there was nothing bigger in my life than 9/11, and that was true for me. But at that moment, this little boy came in to my room with this great big Jesus on his shoulders and showed me something bigger.
I’d like to say that at that point everything got beautiful, the birds were humming outside, and everything was grand. But it took awhile. The next day was not beautiful. It was still ugly. I was still scared. I had to be honest with God and say, “I don’t know you, and so I don’t love you, but I’m so willing to get to know you.” Then an awesome and peculiar thing started to happen: I got to know me as I got to know Him. I started to let go of my image of the big house on the hill, the six-figure income, and the keeping up with Joneses. It’s hard to let go of that when that’s all you ever lived for. But when I finally did let it go, He gave me what he really wanted me to have. That’s a simple, modest living and a whole lot of love.
My circumstances did not improve overnight, but slowly, they did improve. I began to ask God what He wanted me to do, what He had for me each day. It took a while, but my children and I have a house again that we have had for a year now. My son was able through the graciousness of people who loved him to stay in his school. Today, I travel and speak to women about what happened to me through 9/11. I encourage people to live their lives for this moment as hard as they can. My motto that I try to live by is to remember that I never know when my words may be the last words that someone will ever hear, so we have to make them count, make them beautiful.
Take a moment right now, look at the clock, and imagine it is the last three minutes of your life. Now imagine that you can’t do anything or change anything in these last three minutes. You don’t get a “do-over.” Can you sit back and say you are satisfied with the legacy you are leaving? If not, start changing that right now!
I speak and travel to encourage, but my passion is to work with women who are victims of domestic violence and with the homeless. I go into the impoverished areas and rough neighborhoods, walk the streets, and get to know these women. I make relationships, so that when they hit rock bottom, they can turn to someone who understands. Recently, I got knocked out cold by a pimp. Me! He just laid me out. When it happened, I was a little stunned. Then afterwards, I thought, “Wow! I was so close to being beaten up for the kingdom of heaven!” What I want to live like every day is to say that I am just showing off for my daddy, running around in front of him saying, “Look at me!” I’m doing whatever I can do to put a smile on His face.
I learned that we are not defined by what we do, the clothes we wear, or how much we achieve in our homes or our work. We are not defined by our level of success or our income. Our worth is defined by how big our heart is. If it doesn’t hurt you to love somebody, then you are not loving as hard as you can. I think love should leave an ache in your belly. When you do something for somebody, it should ache in your gut.
You never get over something like 9/11. You just live beyond it. The enemy still comes at me in different ways to discourage me. It’s a sad thing that happened, and there is no way around that except to say it is sad. I still cry; I’m gonna lose sleep from time to time. But I always have the grace of God to redeem me from all of it.
So was 9/11 the best or the worst thing that ever happened to me? It was the worst thing that could ever have happened, but on a personal level it was the best thing that could have happened. It took all of that to change me. It took 9/11 for me to start building my eternity, laying up my treasures in heaven, looking forward to seeing my Savior’s face.
If I had died in that tower, I would be in hell right now. I was not in love with Jesus, and there was no place for him in my life. Now I have just found a lump in my breast, a very large one. I don’t have a diagnosis yet, but death has lost its sting for me. This life is not the promise, and I can not hold onto this life. I want to meet the love of my life, to sit so close to Him that I can smell his breath, and I may have to leave this life to do that. In the meantime, I want my legacy to be to my children that it is not about corporate gain and materialistic things. I want it to be that I am somebody who loves God without compromise or condition and who just boldly does what God would have me to do.
Leslie Haskin is the author of Held (Tyndale, August 2007) and Between Heaven and Ground Zero (Bethany House Publishers, August 2006). Leslie’s ministry, Safe HUGS, enlists Christians to open up their homes to the homeless and victims of domestic violence to nurture them for one year and help them re-enter society. Safe HUGS provides alarm systems for the homes and financial assistance for volunteers, and Haskin says the program has benefits for the volunteers and those being helped. “We donÕt want to see women and children who are victims of domestic violence have to go into homeless shelters,” Haskin says. “We want them to live with people who will take them to church, eat with them, pray with them, and help them get back on their feet.” To learn more about Safe HUGS or to support the ministry, visit www.safehugs.com. To purchase Leslie’s books, click on our Find a Store tab to locate a retail outlet near you.