Reflecting Back: 16 Years Ago Today


It was a beautiful fall day in Ann Arbor on the campus of the University of Michigan. I had just returned for my sophomore year and was really looking forward to a fresh start - and life outside of the dorms. Despite my nagging shoulder injury - and life without swimming - I was feeling a renewed sense of hope and a growing sense of inner peace.

On the morning of September 11th, I trekked across campus for my 8:00am biology lab, snacks, water and newly purchased cell phone packed in my bag. For three hours, we were all engrossed in the details of our investigation - busily transcribing DNA and splicing RNA, completely unaware of what was happening outside of that room. Around 11:00am the energy in the room shifted when our teaching assistant picked up the classroom phone {that was attached to the wall}. This was a time free of push notifications and wifi and apps. As she listened to the person on the other line, we could see her face drop. We all felt her energy shift, and the room quieted to silence. My heart sank for her.

I never could have imagined what she was about to share. 

She didn't say anything - that I can remember. She just turned on the TV in the corner of the lab. She had no answers. We just watched. The planes. The buildings. The smoke. What in the hell was going on? 

My heart sank for all of us. 

The pieces came in fragments. There was no storyline yet. We had no idea what was happening - and feared for what was next. She released us from lab. Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day; that's all we knew. 

I called my parents. No answer at home. The news anchors kept talking about the home base being Boston. What did that mean? I'm from Boston. My family was still there. What did that mean?

And. New York. All those people. Did they get out? What is going on? How is this possible?

And LA. United Airlines. My heart raced. My cousin Sari flew that route all the time. OMG. Sari. Sari. What is happening? Was she on that plane? Was that her day to work? 

As I walked through the quads, the magnitude of the situation began to wash over me. I was hundreds of miles from home. Scared. Confused. Sad. Angry. Overwhelmed. Shocked. Numb.

I called my dad at work. He answered, thank goodness. I sat outside of the student union to catch my breath and talk through what we knew. It was 11:30am. Both towers had already collapsed. The entire country was under a no-fly ordinance, making the booming sound of the military planes overhead all the more surreal - bringing comfort and igniting fear.

I wondered where we could go. Where could we hide? Where would we be safe from harm? 

As a nation, we were literally and figuratively under the rubble of our life. Our collective sense of security ripped from us. We were faced with a choice: choose love or choose fear.

As the stories were told - of the 2,996 who were killed, 8 of them children. The 6,000 who were wounded. The thousands who courageously moved into action on the ground. The women and men in the military. And their families. All who experienced trauma on that Tuesday morning – and all the days that followed. As the stories were told, numbers became more than just numbers. Each story told acted as a stark reminder: this is our one life. This is it. That could have been us.

We were all affected.

Every time we are under the rubble of our life, we have the opportunity to rise a truer version of ourselves.

Though there were many different opinions on how to find our feet again, one thing was for sure: our collective compassion, deep empathy and love pulled us through a really difficult time.   

When we lead with courage, compassion and empathy, we become a powerful force of love. When we are open to hearing the stories of others – who may or may not be like 'us' – we grow stronger. When we are willing to be vulnerable, and stop insulating ourselves, we realize that we are more alike than we are different. We begin to understand that behind every number – is a human with a story.  We begin to heal. We realize that the light does indeed enter through the open wound.

On this 16th anniversary, the adversity we face as a nation is not absent.

We cannot control what the Universe hurls at us. And, often times we’ll never understand why.

We can control how we show up for ourselves. And for each other.

We can do hard things. 

To set ourselves free from the paralysis of fear, we must control the controllables.

Anniversaries can be hard. If you are struggling today, know that you are not alone. We are with you.

May we reflect, and move forward with courage, compassion and empathy.

May we allow ourselves to be seen. And choose to see each other – fully.

May we see the light inside of others – and inside of ourselves.

May we use this day as a reminder to find gratitude – and live our dreams.

Because, this is it. This is our one life. And we get to choose how we show up.

I'm curious: Where were you on that Tuesday morning? What have you learned from this experience?


Samantha Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mama of four.  She inspires and empowers others to cultivate the courage, resilience and perseverance needed to let go of perfection and other limiting beliefs so they can live their dream. Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.  

A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls.  

You can learn more about Samantha at