(Based on two earlier blogs I wrote)
My family and I visited the towers with my son’s friend Dylan just weeks before they were destroyed. The photo of us standing atop Tower One was attached to my fridge that morning by a souvenir WTC magnet we had bought. A young girl in my Sunday School class lost her Dad that day. A high school friend died too, as did several firefighters and police officers who lived in town. All were exceptional people.
I was in Manhattan, but uptown. The first plane must have hit over my shoulder as I walked up Fifth Avenue. I was greeted at the elevator by the head of security, who filled me in, asking me to turn on the TV in my office. I remember my mother-in-law managed to get through on my cell phone pretty soon afterwards, and how relieved she was. I also remember hiding under the desk as we suddenly heard low-flying jets. These turned out to be American fighter jets sent to give us confidence – but we had no idea. We just heard more planes and feared the worst. Real fear.
Anyone in my building who had relatives in the World Trade Center came to watch in my office, because we had the CNN hookup. It was a scary time. It was surreal. It was suddenly life during wartime. – that’s something few Americans had experienced at domestic offices since the Civil War, outside of Pearl Harbor.
As I ran downtown again – because Newsradio88 said train service had been restored – I could see the cloud of smoke and dust I had been watching on television all morning. Dust would coat my car and house for weeks afterward. I looked back at the smoldering wreckage when the train exited the tunnel; glad to be putting distance behind me.
Then, as we arrived at Jamaica Station, a transfer point from downtown, an army of bloodied, bandaged, dusty grey ghosts entered the car. In the grey tones, they looked POWs from World War II in an old black and white newsreel. But, unlike the images I had been watching obsessively on television for four hours, this was reality. The scope of what was happening truly hit me – more so than even the worried family members I had just left.
No one wanted my seat. They were grateful to be heading home. I felt shame for being so clean in the face of what these people had endured. Then I realized how many people would not be coming that day. Looking around me, I felt that I had been truly blessed to have been spared what these people went though, but they were thinking the same thing in terms of those who didn’t get out.
That December I took my family to see Tim Curry in A Christmas Carol at the Paramount Theater. Before the show, they announced that the 9/11 families were their guests for this performance, and they stood up. God, there were so many of them! Many of us gave them a standing ovation (tears streaming down our cheeks). Others sat, strangely silent.
Some of us standing were really angry that more didn’t stand. “Come on! These are you 9/11 heroes!” Was it that typical New Yorker apathy comedians always joke about? The late David Brenner used to say that an explosion under Madison Avenue could launch a 50-pound manhole cover 100 feet into the air, and that the typical New Yorker would sit there unperturbed calling “Heads!”
I don’t think this is why people were silent. My guess is that they were experiencing the same shock I had on the train 90 days earlier. That was when 9/11 stopped being something I saw on TV, and became something I could touch. Today, I can’t look at those awful videos. My house is strangely silent this morning without the TV as it is once a year on 9/11. I guess that’s my tribute.