I don’t ever talk about my job on the internet. Not because I have one of those super-secret jobs that I’m not allowed to talk about. It’s just that when I’m not at work, I want my internet to be all mine. I don’t want to have to be careful about what I think or what I say because I’ve linked myself to some job and I have a certain image to uphold. Once you tell the interwebs where you work, you never get a day off from being that person, the grunt who goes in to the office day in and day out, whose job is mostly ordinary, but forces you to have a certain image to uphold.
I like my job–or I don’t like it, depending on the day, and whether or not it’s budget season–about as much as the next person. I mostly like it because of the people I work with, and because I make a difference for the people I serve every day. They almost never thank me for this, but I don’t even mind, most of the time. Because I know I’ve made a difference, and most days? That’s enough for me.
But, in my career as a Federal employee, there have been Three Terrible Days. Three days that have shaken me to the very core, and made me question how, even in my mundane world, I could ever be safe.
April 19, 1995.
September 11, 2001.
September 16, 2013.
That day in 1995, I thought, was the worst. It was when some idiot with a God complex took it upon himself to teach us Feds some kind of lesson. On that day, 168 people lost their lives. Most were people like me, doing their mostly thankless jobs on an ordinary day. Eleven of them were my colleagues, and I still remember their names and faces.
Then, of course, was September 11, 2001. I have never been more afraid of anything than I was on that day. On that morning I was avoiding starting my mundane, thankless job by chatting with a friend over instant messenger while sipping my coffee. My office at the time was just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon, and though we were miles away from the disaster, the thick black smoke that roared into the otherwise cloudless sky screamed the rage of death and destruction. When trying to make it home that day, somehow my husband and I ended up gridlocked in the one place we wished we hadn’t been… right outside the Capitol. Not knowing whether that hallowed building would be next on the hit list was unsettling as we sat unmoving for nearly two hours–so close, in fact, that the sharpshooter who had his gun pointed in our general direction, I”m sure would have thought nothing of going right through us to get to the enemy… if it had come down to that. (Thankfully, of course, it didn’t.)
And now today. Today’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard was the terror next door. Based on what little I know of the (very secure) facility, the gunman was on a walkway several floors up that overlooked the cafeteria. And, he just started shooting. I don’t know if there was a reason or if it was a random act, but a couple of things struck me. My building’s dining room can be described as an atrium with a walkway above, from where one could look down and see early morning meetings taking place, coffee and a last-minute laugh being shared by two co-workers about to embark upon their mostly thankless day, or the inevitable runner who is late for that 8:30 meeting. What I could never imagine, looking down on those scenes, would be observing the very last seconds of someone’s life, frozen in time.
Today’s event did not impact me directly, except that as a precaution, we, their neighbors were put on lockdown for the day. This meant that every meeting I had scheduled was canceled, because inevitably a key player in each case was on the wrong side of the door. Being locked in, in a not-quite-business-as-usual state gives one a lot of time to think. And so I’ve been thinking a lot of all of the people who were just doing their jobs.. And I want to thank them.
It’s the least that they deserve.