September 11th, 2011
I was in NYC on 9/11. I had gone into my office early to prepare for a meeting with a client, when The Tech Guru, to whom I was not yet married, called to ask if I’d heard about a plane flying into one of the Twin Towers. At that time, we thought it was a helicopter or small plane like a Cessna, piloted, perhaps, by a student taking a lesson. It seemed innocent enough, a random tragedy that would be the news of the day only for that day.
Casually, still prepping for my meeting, I went into the conference room and turned on the TV and, with several co-workers, watched the replay of the plane slamming into the building.
Then I noticed that the caption on the bottom of the TV screen said LIVE.
It quickly dawned on us. We hadn’t seen a replay – we had seen a second plane, a plane that looked pretty damn big, much bigger than a Cessna, fly into the Twin…wait…another plane? A second plane?
Yeah. Okay, a little more serious than we’d originally thought, but still, we tried, in those initial moments, to think of possible causes: two drunk pilots? A flight plan gone seriously wrong? Everything we hypothesized seems so ridiculous now in hindsight, but on that morning, right after it had happened, we steadfastly refused to go straight to the worst scenario #1. It had to have been an accident, right? Because if it wasn’t…then what?
Still stunned, a colleague and I still left the building for our meeting a few blocks away. The streets were not yet chaotic, there was still some semblance of normalcy. But by the time we arrived at our client’s office a few minutes later, it became apparent that there weren’t going to be any more meetings that day; business as usual, life as usual, had come to a stop. So we left our client’s offices, quickly, awkwardly, making our way through streets that already felt different from the ones we’d navigated on the way there. Groups of people were clustered together watching TVs, taxis were stopped with radios set to news stations for all to hear…and as we rushed back to our office, we heard a collective gasp from a crowd of people standing on a corner looking towards downtown.
“What happened?” I asked a tall man on the outskirts of the group, trying to see what everyone was looking at.
“One of the towers just fell,” he replied, looking at the rising cloud of ash with stunned eyes while running his hands through his hair. His was the first of many voices I would hear that day that sounded traumatized and truly awed, in all the wrong ways, by what had happened to the Twin Towers, to New York, to us.
I can’t remember exactly how many hours it took me to locate the Tech Guru, what with cellular service being spotty and the general chaos that ensued. It was several hours after that that we finally arrived home, somewhat bedraggled, to our 2 dogs whose happy tail-wagging greetings were the first normal thing we’d experienced since we’d first heard anything about planes. The next day, there was no work. Instead we sat glued to the TV, at first unable to take our eyes away from the footage, played over and over and over, of planes crashing, people leaping to their deaths, the Towers collapsing, people running, running, running from the carnage, all shrouded in white ash. But finally, somewhere in mid-afternoon, I had to turn it off. I had to. I didn’t want to at first, taking my mind away from it seemed almost disrespectful to those who had perished, but I realized that for my own sanity, I had to.
I had to.
So much happened in the days following. The Tech Guru went into NYC with his fraternity brother who had driven from Nebraska – no planes to hop on in those first days following 9/11 – to seek out his sibling who had worked on the 103rd floor of one of the buildings. They went from hospital to hospital, in New York and even in New Jersey, but eventually they realized the truth that was hitting so many others – the hospitals were not full of people who were injured or hurt or suffering from amnesia. Those people who had made it out, were, for the most part, fine…at least physically. But those who didn’t make it out left us few signs of their passing, perishing completely and totally as if somehow mindful of that most somber of Lenten phrases:
“Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return.“
It’s 10 years later and all you have to do is travel by plane to know we haven’t moved on as much as we’ve evolved to adapt to the new world system. And I don’t normally do the 9/11 remembrance thing, precisely because there are so many out there that will do it for me and say it better. But this year, I just wanted to…acknowledge it somehow, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s partially because a few years later I discovered that a junior high classmate had been one of the many firemen to perish. Maybe it’s because I remember how, for a time, we shed all the various classifications we had for people we knew – neighbors, colleagues, clients – and became a homogenous group unified by fear, and anger, and sorrow. Maybe it’s because even now, 10 years later, I can remember that day and the days immediately following with stark clarity, and as painful as they are, I want to preserve those memories out of respect.
But now, I don’t want to say anymore…I feel as though I’m reaching for profound sentiment when really, there’s nothing I can say, nothing that I’ve ever read in years and years of attempted retrospectives, that can truly capture either the horror of that day or its resulting sanctity. I just send up a prayer for the people who suffered on 9/11, whether by dying, by saving, by watching, or by being left behind.
God bless them.
God bless us all.