I know that many people will be writing similar posts today, because it is a day we must always remember, however difficult that may be.
I was working in Manhattan in 2001 and should have been in the city on September 11. I worked in midtown, so for all practical purposes I would have been safe, scared but safe. But that day I wasn’t feeling well and opted to drive into the Long Island office instead. On my way to work (I was late), listening to the radio, I heard news of the first plane crash. At first I thought it was a sick joke the DJ was playing. Then, when I realized it had actually happened, I thought it must have been an accident. And then the second plane hit. And I knew. We all knew. This was being done on purpose. And I was scared.
I frantically tried to reach my husband who also often works in the city (in construction so he could be anywhere), but by then his cell phone had stopped working. I called his office. He was on Long Island that day too. My friends who worked in NY made it home that night. My brother got stuck in his office in New Jersey. But everyone was safe. We were the lucky ones.
At work that morning, everyone was crowded around the one TV in the building – in the gym, watching and waiting. A coworker and I headed up to the cafeteria for something to drink and one of our other coworkers was bubbling over after getting off the phone with her husband, who worked on one of the floors above the impact in the South Tower. He was safe and they were awaiting rescue. She had two young children. Just a minute or so later, another coworker came running into the cafeteria to announce that the South Tower had just collapsed. We watched our coworker’s knees give way and she fell to the floor. I will never forget the anguish on her face at that moment. One coworker was simply announcing the events as they happened. What he didn’t realize was that he had just told this woman that her husband had perished and she would never see him again. I don’t remember the anguished coworker’s name. She had just started working there. But I will never, ever forget her face or her sorrow.
We went home around lunchtime that day, after it was deemed “safe.” I went to get my kids from school. My daughter, then in junior high, had been shuffled off to a room with other students whose parents worked in the city, I am guessing to keep them from hearing news until they knew their parents were safe. She cried when she saw me. My son was younger and didn’t realize, I think, that my working in the city could have in any way meant I wasn’t safe. My husband arrived home minutes later.
We sat glued to the TV for the rest of the day as events unfolded. We cried a lot. The next day on the way to work, I could still see the smoke billowing above the skyline. I passed a man standing on the back of his pickup truck on the side of the road, saluting and holding up an American flag. I cried the rest of the way to work.
The next week, back on the train, with police and guard dogs, everyone had stories, some horrific, some triumphant. People spoke more on the train in those following weeks than I had ever seen before. New York commuters keep to themselves, but now, everyone needed to talk and connect. The stories were a testament to how amazing we humans can be in times of crisis.
Eventually, life got back to normal. I worked for another six months in Manhattan before permanently moving back to the Long Island office. It was not because of 9/11, but I was happy to make the move back.
After 8 years, the events of 9/11 have faded some and life goes on. As it should. But 9/11 is a day we must never forget. And we must never forget that we were the lucky ones.
My daughter sent me this this morning. It is a fitting way to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives that day and the families and friends who held them dear.
That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet. — Emily Dickinson
On this day remember to get out and live, not merely exist. Laugh much and love more.