TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Dawn Robinson can't forget the morning that changed her life. It replays in her head every day.
How she prayed before she left the house. Showed up early for a head start on a huge stack of work. Watched debris pass the windows of her 61st floor office.
She had no idea the World Trade Center where she worked would be gone by the end of the morning.
What she went through that day — Sept. 11, 2001 — ripped her path out from under her. It changed her purpose and her perspective. Sunday morning, at a church in Town 'N Country, she will share the story of how it happened.
"God was so merciful to spare my life," said Robinson, 46. "The least I could do was share what he's done for me."
In 2001, she lived in New York City. She sang for six years as part of the Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. She worked as vice president of training for financial firm Morgan Stanley in the trade center's south tower, the second of the two to be hit by hijacked airplanes.
When Robinson and colleagues felt a jolt and saw debris, they had no idea the first plane had struck the north tower. No one on her staff worried. But along with hundreds of other men and women who worked in the south tower, they made a trek toward the ground floor to investigate.
It felt like a fire drill on a school day. Everyone joked and laughed, Robinson said. A chance to get out of work and grab a coffee with her staff. But she had left her purse at her desk. When she reached the 44th floor, a voice came over the building's loud speaker: "Please return to your work stations."
Still hoping for coffee or a bite to eat, Robinson decided she would go back upstairs for her purse and catch up with her staff after that.
But a bad feeling overwhelmed her.
"I felt I've got to get out of this building," she said. "I turned around and told my staff we have to get out now."
So they continued down the stairwell. That decision saved her life, she said. While she reached the 41st floor, the second plane struck her tower on a floor above.
"From laughing to complete chaos," she said. "It knocked us up against the wall. The lights went out. Water (and) smoke started coming in."
What Robinson saw when she reached the ground floor has haunted her ever since.
"You saw fire. You smelled fire. You were dodging fire. It felt like my whole body was on fire, but it was the ash," she said. "We saw the people jumping from the towers. Cars were blowing up all around us. Terror doesn't even begin to describe it."
Ever since, everything has changed.
Now, she lives in her hometown of Atlanta. The little things like standing in a long line or getting cut off on the freeway no longer bother her. The multimillion dollar contracts she left on her desk that day mean nothing.
Debris burned her eyes, permanently impairing her vision. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sept. 11, 2001, is the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up in the morning, and the last thing on her mind before she goes to sleep.
She is scarred, but she keeps going. And, she says, there is a reason for that.
"There is absolutely no way I can get through 9/11 without my faith," she said. "That morning, I prayed … that God would lead me, guide me, direct me, protect me. I believe that on 9/11, he absolutely answered my prayer."
In her faith, she found hope to carry on. It is her faith, she says, that compels her to share her story like she will this weekend at Faith Outreach Center on Sheldon Road.
"I believe (Robinson's) story will have an impact," said Mickey Walters, administrator at Faith Outreach, where her husband, George, is pastor. It will help people realize that "life is very short and we have something to do here."
For Robinson, that something is to share her story.
"Our world is so chaotic and everybody's hurting in one way or another," she said. "The loss of a loved one. Incurable disease. Financial loss. Divorce. Your own 9/11 experience."
Robinson shares her story to spread what she learned from it.
"It's okay to feel pain," she said. And "to walk away with hope."