Today can seem like any other but if I think about it for a minute and remember what happened 17 years ago it seems like yesterday.
We were there that day. Some of our closest friends overlooked the World Trade Center from their nearby offices. I was in a taxi heading down 2nd Avenue towards work, gridlock right at the 59th St bridge as taxi drivers were stopped yelling to one another hearing on their radios that something had happened. But what could possibly have happened? A plane flew into the WTC? The sky was perfectly blue. Not possible.
With traffic at a standstill I jumped out of the cab (paying of course, but a typical Manhattan thing to do when it becomes much faster to walk v watch the meter). Keith called me and said that CNN was reporting that a plane did in fact fly into one of the towers. This was surreal and very out of the ordinary, how could a plane hit – or better yet, not avoid – a building that big? By the time I walked the 3 blocks to work, there was obvious concern by coworkers the minute I walked into the building. Another report came that the 2nd tower was hit. Or was it just a replay of the 1st tower being hit? How on earth could two planes hit two different towers on the same day, in perfect weather just minutes apart? It did not initially occur to all of us that this could be a terrorist attack.
The only tv in our office building was in the gym. We all huddled around watching the account live. When that first building come down I can still hear the shrieks of my co-workers. No one could believe this. Immediately it seemed cell service was down. We were left with a radio and one television – scared to leave our building – yet desperately wanting to know what was going on just a few miles from us and apparently there was more, a couple other flights from DC were now in the mix.
With no communication, Keith walked to my office to make sure that we were safe. Transportation in NYC and the surrounding areas had come to a complete standstill. No subway, buses, commuter trains, no way to get around the city or out of the city except on foot. Manhattan and and the surrounding bridges and tunnels were effectively cut off.
The people filing up from downtown on foot was a scene not soon to be forgotten. People from everywhere in Manhattan were walking uptown while police cars, fire engines and rescue vehicles were rolling downtown. No one wanted to be alone and no one wanted to be at home. We found ourselves walking to our neighborhood and sitting with a bunch of people in a local bar, hanging on every report from CNN. I don’t think anyone on those streets or in these bars could wrap their head around any part of what had happened. The silence in some way said so much.
The initial reporting did not sensor, so seeing people jumping out of buildings and the absolute worst possible choice being made whether to stay and meet your destiny or attempt something by jumping was playing out before our eyes. When it was understood what had happened it was even worse than anyone have imagined.
After the initial shock of everything that had happened, reality set in and it became even more sad. I think for me the most heart wrenching part of the after math were the missing person posters put up at every hospital and around town. With very little communication and almost no way for people to know what had happened to their loved ones, they had to take to the streets. Giving interviews with news reporters sharing photos, hanging posters, writing letters, desperately trying to find their loved ones.
I have no idea what it must be like to be living through this hell on a daily basis in Syria right now. But seeing families looking for loved ones breaks your heart. Seeing folks jump out of a building because that is their best option is a nightmare. Smelling (for months) death and destruction wafting through the city was surreal. Charred papers from the WTC landed on my balcony on 72nd St. That is 9 miles from Ground Zero. You could not escape this – what had happened was with us daily. Yet we were bystanders, fortunate enough to not know anyone that died.
The work began and they started to clear the rubble. My dad would visit from Boston regularly and I think he felt it his duty to see what was happening at Ground Zero. He made treks down there religiously to pay his respects and let us know how things were progressing. He did this for years. I could never do it. I could not see the mashed up steel, eventually the big hole, I couldn’t think of all that had happened, yet I thought of it all the time.
The first time I was able to bring myself to visit that area was about 2 years ago. We had left Manhattan and moved to Phoenix but I still had never made my way to this spot since 9/11 happened. By this time, the Freedom Tower had opened. We brought the kids to the Observation Deck, a very impressive building, very pretty and with a really fast elevator. But what it overlooked to me was a grave yard. I was speechless seeing the memorial. I had all the emotion I expected to have the first time being that close. These were actual people, these names on the memorial. This wasn’t just a news story. This happened in my town.
This could have been anyone of us. Yet it was some of us. I think often of these people who just went to work that day. They had no idea what was going to happen. They kissed their kids, they went on their daily commute, they pressed the elevator button, they sat at their desks with their morning cup of coffee and then everyone’s lives changed forever.
I was just in NYC a few weeks ago and my hotel was a few steps from the memorial. I was by myself and just sat there and looked into the big hole that represents what was once tower 1. Reflecting at that moment, I think what I feel most is a sadness for anyone, anywhere that has to endure something like this. My sadness is for all sorts of things but mostly that humanity is capable of these sorts of atrocities.
I was naive for a second and hoped from the bottom of my heart that these senseless acts of terrorism around the world could come to an end. If only wishes came true.