...recalling what I was doing twelve years ago this morning. I heard it on the radio just before it happened.
I was in the basement of my graduate school - went upstairs during a break between classes where there was a TV and people crowded around it - both towers in flames. I got there just in time to see the first tower collapse.
Time does much to normalize experiences like these. But at the time, I remember nothing was normal at all - I was very likely in a state of clinical psychological shock, joining the throng of aimless zombies in downtown Philadelphia who had nowhere to go because the trains were stopped.
Nothing was normal, nobody had their bearings professionally or personally even a week later - these give witness to that...
I was working in Midtown West. Saw everything, unfortunately. The air was full of scorched papers fluttering down even this far away - one of my co-workers found an admission ticket to the WTC observation deck that had been blown all the way to us. He made photocopies of the ticket for all of us and I numbly accepted one.
The sounds were the worst. All eight lanes of the West Side Highway were now a one-way racetrack for emergency vehicles, sirens shrieking relentlessly.... I heard them in my dreams for long afterwards.
And then the Zeus thunderclap of an F/A18-E Super Hornet, from a Navy base upstate, circling like a child's paper toy so small in the distance.
A high school friend of mine died in the Cantor Fitzgerald offices. He was 22. His mother wrote this on our hometown's memorial wall:
"My dearest ____, I love you and I miss you. My heart is broken forever. Love, Mom"
My company closed due to the destruction of NYC tourism and business in general. I spent most of my first 18 months out of college living with my parents collecting unemployment.
One year later, Sept. 2002, at Rosh Hashanah services the rabbi gave a sermon like I'd never heard before. Between the attacks, and the anthrax, and the war, and psychological damage... he wasn't really talking about scripture, not about moral lessons or parallels or the usual stuff. Instead he was basically praying on his own - begging God to listen to his people and help them have a better year than the last one had been. It was such a small thing to ask for, so mundane and, if you will, secular, but asked so heartfeltly and with such emotion by this man who I'd always seen as an authority, wise, confident....
Loc: somewhere in Africa
I was working in a third world country at the time. We had no radio or TV reception and our internet access was limited and spotty. our time was about 15 hours ahead of the time in NYC, so most of us there were already asleep when it happened, close to our midnight.
The first I knew was when I signed on to internet the next morning. There was a tiny postage stamp sized photo of the twin towers in flames on the page – and I assumed that it was a press release for a new disaster movie. It wasn’t until I got to school that I learned the truth. We all felt so isolated. Unlike those in the US who were bombarded with non-stop news coverage and repeated replays of the climactic moments, we could not get enough information to make sense of what had happened.
It was weeks before I saw the video of the coverage and then it was a VCR taped copy from US news network reports that a family member of friends had made and mailed over.
I know that even people who were there have said that it did not seem real – but for us half a world away, it was even more difficult to grasp and believe.
I have also heard that it was some kind of bonding moment for many people across the US – that they shared the shock of the experience. I hope it doesn’t sound ghoulish – but I am sorry to have missed that sensation.
But there was one experience that few others outside of our community can claim – that was incredibly moving. The villagers that we lived amidst were very simple folk with little to no education and a very sketchy understanding of the world outside their own sphere of daily life. Even they learned of the great tragedy that had occurred in the USA. They also knew that some of us were from the US and therefore assumed that most of us had known people who were in the towers and had lost family members and friends. As is their custom when there is a death in the family, they collected food and gave it to us Americans. These were subsistence farmers living in extreme poverty – most of whom had nothing to spare. It was an act of pure empathy and goodwill that still brings tears to my eyes.
"That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. . . What will your verse be?" Robin Williams as John Keating in "Dead Poets Society"
The time was a strange one for me. I was 14 on September 11th, 2001.
I was attending a small private high school. There were 10 of us in class. I remember hearing bits and pieces of information, but the school didn't want to "disrupt class" to allow us to follow the coverage. I didn't find out about Flight 93 until that evening.
What made the time strange is that I was at the peak of my CSA, so I was extremely disconnected to everyone and everything. I remember feeling very little if anything at the time. My mind was far away from national issues.
Probably 4 years ago, I was really giving the whole event some deep thought and then it hit... It was like the totality of the event finally came crashing down on me. I recall I was just totally crushed, devastated. Here I was, years after the tragedy, sobbing uncontrollably. I knew no one there nor have I even been to NYC. But I couldn't stop.
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