Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 11

It was a Tuesday, a Tuesday that we shouldn't really remember at all. Beautiful fall day, crystal blue, cloudless sky. But what happens on a beautiful September Tuesday normally? You get up, drink your coffee, shower, get kids off to school, go to work, or stay home and run things there; ordinary - unremarkable stuff. Life. Get up the next day and do it all again. Only, of course, the unimaginable happened.

I was in a car with my boss and my associate headed to New Jersey for a meeting with our website designers. I had not turned on tv, and as we happily chatted and listened to music in the car, we had no idea what was going on. Until we got to the top of a hill in Bergen County, New Jersey, and when the sky is clear, as it most certainly was that day, you can see Manhattan unfold like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. A giant cloud of smoke. We are not terribly concerned. Huh, must be some fire. Wow, hope people are ok. We have no idea it's the World Trade Center.

We go to our meeting, and the news is starting to break. One of the web designers says, "Something is going on in Manhattan, they think a small plane may have accidentally hit one of the twin towers." That's a shame, wonder how that happened; casual concern all around.

Then the air changes, someone from their reception area comes in and whispers to them. They look at us and say, "We have to turn on the tv, something bad is going on." So we sit, riveted, watching what is going on, speechless, and trying to understand the scope of it. It is then the news starts looping the crashes, first one, then the second. The first time this small room of people see the first plane hit, there is cringing. When we see the second plane come in, the sun sparkling off it, and careen into the second tower, the realization starts to hit us. It's amazing how quiet a room full of people can be when their brains are working to try to process something so absurd and implausible as two planes, BAM! BAM! rocketing into the twin towers. We are glued to the tv, just disbelieving. There is no meeting. We get in the car to head back up to the Hudson Valley, and already there is just a mass exodus out of the city. People are on their cell phones, some are crying. There are absurd decisions to consider - my associate was to cover the office that day - and she looked at me and asked, "Do I sit in the office?" I told her to go home.

As I learned that one of the hijacked planes took off from Boston and literally followed my beloved Hudson River right down into midtown, all I could think was that they flew over my house, and Marymount, my college, and my husband's alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. They used my Hudson River to navigate their way, in our bright New York sunshine, to cripple my city and wreak unspeakable havoc, carnage, and fear. New Yorkers are a lot of things, but fearful is generally not one of them.

I think more than anything, we didn't know what to do because it was unprecedented. And we were powerless to do a damn thing about what was going on. Phones start ringing. I am located, on a great traffic day, about a 45 minute drive from Manhattan, so lots of folks in this general area work and commute to the city. We lost two residents of our tiny town, one a young firefighter, a childhood friend of my brother's, and one a middle aged, wealthy business man. Terrorists don't discriminate. All told, 55 people in the lower Hudson Valley lost their lives that day. People are calling friends, neighbors, taking roll call. Then the planes hit Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. Surreal.

As New Yorkers, we take great pride in our city, and this was (and remains) intensely personal to us, just as I'm sure it was, and is, to the residents of Pennsylvania and Arlington. People that could get out of the city tried, and it took hours upon hours for them to get home that day. We heard stories of people spared by fate, too. An attorney friend of mine, whose office was at the World Trade Center, was called unexpectedly to meet a client for breakfast that day. A friend of my daughter's parents had an argument that morning, and her father missed his train because of it.

Although that was eight years ago now, I don't still don't think we are far enough removed from it to register it fully. (Someday, and please mark my words, there will be a movie made about those days events, maybe Spielberg is genius enough to do it with the dignity and honor it deserves) And yet we're close enough to remember, mourn, and recall exactly what we were doing that day.

From all the images fired at us in the following days - flyers posted looking for loved ones, the American Flag being raised at ground zero, people covered in ash and soot literally running for their lives, there is one image that still haunts me. As the heat became so intense that people started choosing to jump to their certain deaths rather than remain in the inferno - one couple, a man and a woman, jumped together, holding hands. Did they know each other? Were they co-workers; lovers? Were they strangers who had never seen each other, and fate threw them together, and they decided it would be easier to have a companion to hold their hand as they dropped to their deaths? There is a story there.

But in the end, like the Whos in Whoville, who stand shoulder to shoulder together after the Grinch steals their Christmas, we came together. As families, friends, neighbors; as communities, as states, and as a country. What should have been a forgettable Tuesday in September, will never, ever be again.


  1. Beautifully articulated as always, my dear friend.

    I was at computer school in NJ that day ... which unfolded as you describe ... with initial reports making us think that some fool Cesna pilot had gotten lost and couldn't handle the wind shear ... to being glued to the TV and the horrified realization of what was REALLY going on. I remember racing north to get my kids out of school. Irrational, I know. I didn't for a minute believe that MW would be attacked ... but like so many I just needed to hold my kids and have them all safe at home. Ajay was in the City that day ... thankfully midtown ... he finally took a train north on the east side of the beloved Hudson. I picked him up in Poughkeepsie after 6 PM that long, long day.

    They call this "flash bulb" or episodic memory. Where what should have been dimly recalled, if at all, as a perfect, crisp, clear NY autumn day ... is forever burned into our collective consciousness.

  2. Well said Bev. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing, don't they? Shame.....