09/09/2011 11:05 am ET | Updated Nov 09, 2011

The Safest Building in the World

For my birthday in December 1976, my late husband, Sam Scheele, took me to New York City for dinner at the great Midwestern architect Minori Yamasake's renowned World Trade Center. While I had heard about these immense twin towers, I had no idea what looking at them, each 110 stories high, would do to me, given my twin phobias of heights and close spaces. Getting into one of the 100 elevators seemed an impossible feat. Sam gently asked what it would take for me to feel comfortable enough to step in. When I answered that I was afraid that the elevator would fall, he called for the head engineer to come over and alleviate my fear.

In a calm, sane voice, that engineer explained the elaborate braking systems to me and my architect husband. In the unlikely event that the first set of brakes should fail, a second set would come immediately take over. In the absurd event that the second were to fail, a third would operate. Engineered against all odds, the building was the safest in the world, the engineer promised. His facts assuaged my fears.

With my eyes half shut, I stepped into the elevator and rode up, changing elevators once, to the glorious Windows of the World restaurant. We ate steak tartare and drank a bottle of a fine Saint-Emillion, all the while gawking at the views of the greatest city in the world amid the contemporary luxury of the restaurant's design. Relaxed from such a sensational evening and the several glasses of wine, I stepped back into those elevators, my nerves a bit more settled on the way down.

Twenty-five years later in Los Angeles, at 6:10 am on September 11th, I switched on the news while I dressed for a meeting. In horror, I reeled against the unimaginable attacks as airplanes flew into those two towers, each with three sets of brakes.

We make plans, elaborate plans with backups, and rely on the data to feel secure. Although we can't take it in, we know that there is no such thing as security in life. Like flowers and trees and birds and ice, we all die. Yet, we need to make those plans and rely on that sense of security because otherwise we would not live, not fully. Otherwise we might not go out to celebrate a birthday, visit a stunning piece of art, or wake to see the glory of dawn. Not taking ordinary risks would be death -- death to the soul. We need to live.