Connie Batts, 62, Sacramento
"I went back to New York City during the summer after the 9/11 disaster," said Batts, who grew up in Queens and came to Sacramento in 1999. She now works for the state Department of Health Care Services.
"I don't know if it was closure or something else, but I wanted to see ground zero. I had to see the damage, to be a witness to it and to mourn those people who were lost that day."
Batts went back to Queens and noted the hole in the Manhattan skyline where the twin towers once soared. She recalled evenings atop the Windows on the World restaurant, where she used to enjoy dinner and drinks with friends.
The next day, she and her mother, Voidell, who is 89 and still lives in New York, took the subway to Manhattan. "We could still feel and smell the thickness of the smoke and the cinders of lost lives," and many photographs and other memorabilia decorated the area, she said. "You could feel the pain, smell the death. It was very emotional."
As they stared at the cratered earth, a construction worker at the site invited them to take an elevator ride for a "bird's-eye view" of the damage. Batts and her mother, along with another woman they had never met, joined him.
"We went up about 20 stories, and we looked down. What we saw was just a black hole, an empty pit," Batts said. "We stood and stared at it for a few minutes, in complete silence."
As she stood in the elevator that day, "something suddenly changed in me," Batts says. "None of the little things, like possessions, mattered anymore. The important thing is that we are all human beings, and we need to care for one another."
On the way down, the stranger standing next to Batts complimented her on her beaded wooden earrings, a relic "from the hippie days," she said. Without a second thought, Batts removed her favorite earrings and placed them in the woman's hands.
"I want you to have them," she said. "They're yours."
By the time the group descended to the bottom, everyone was in tears.