HALLOWELL – I am a resident of Maine, a wife, mother, attorney, small business owner and volunteer. But on Sept. 11, 2001, I was a busy, single New Yorker, racing to work.

I decided to vote on that sunny Tuesday morning, that Primary Day, before commuting to the Chambers Street/World Trade Center subway stop. That choice saved my life and allowed me to write this.

But I was there. It runs like a movie in my memory: images of the burning buildings; sounds of explosions; running, terrified, screaming crowds; the sad eyes of the young woman with a large radio reporting the Pentagon attack; my cell phone ringing over and over again showing me the names of friends and family members who were looking for me, but being unable to answer because service had gone out.

No one knew what was happening, or why. It was a nightmare come to life, an experience unlike any other that will remain with me forever.

As an employee of the city’s public health care system, I was ordered back to work two days after the attacks.

Following a long ride to a central location north of the disaster site, we city workers took special vans to our buildings downtown.

We passed through a barricade at 14th Street and drove south into pure white — white air, white sky. Tall buildings and silence enveloped us. Armed soldiers patrolled abandoned lower Broadway.

A police officer handed me a face-mask as I stepped out of the van onto the ash-covered street. I smelled smoke, saw the empty space in the sky where the Twin Towers once stood as a landmark. The fire continued to burn at what was newly named “Ground Zero.” Our offices were without phone and computer service, and we were ultimately released again to the eerily quiet streets.

I waited with my friend and her 3-year-old son for word of their firefighter husband and father, Jeffrey Walz, of Ladder Company 9, who had gone into Tower One to save lives.

As thousands ran out of the buildings, Jeff and his brethren bravely stepped inside to help, unprepared for what was to come. Mayor Rudy Giuliani called Jeff a hero at his funeral.

But beyond the selflessness and bravery of the firefighters, and amid the inexpressible terror of that time, were many acts of kindness. I recall the arms of a young man escorting me from the pushing crowds in the street onto the sidewalk.

I remember the politeness of the people waiting to call home from corner pay phones.

As a volunteer, I observed the generosity of other volunteers, giving blood, moving beds at Bellevue Hospital, waiting in vain for the injured that never came; providing food for, and washing the boots of, the rescue workers at Ground Zero.

Soon, thousands of photographs appeared everywhere, along with mile-long lines of people reporting their missing loved ones and waiting in fear.

And, to comfort their suffering, along came more volunteers bringing food, water, and support to total strangers. Some of these volunteer efforts went on for many months.

Someday, my young children will learn about this historic event and the terrorism that resulted in the murder of innocents. They will learn about the wars, the politics, and the personal losses that followed.

But I will also be able to tell them that amid the horror were extraordinary acts of kindness, that people chose to fight an unfathomable act of destruction in their midst with generosity, friendship, and cooperation. That communities of faith served together. That we all made the choice to get back up and help each other, with individual politics subjugated to the common good.

In contrast, the current and shameful display of acrimony and digging-in-of-heels in Washington, D.C., to the detriment of our communities, only serves to discredit what our citizens created after the worst attack in our nation’s history.

So, as we remember the fallen on this 10th anniversary of 9/11, let us also honor the volunteers who worked tirelessly to help countless strangers in innumerable ways.

Let us reaffirm our commitment to communication and collaboration in our professional communities and neighborhoods, showing our political representatives by example that their endless infighting will only serve to accomplish what terrorists did not.

And let us honor the legacy of bravery, service and cooperation with more of the same.

– Special to the Press Herald