Fifteen Years

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

Can it be fifteen years since that one Morning?

I had just opened my own Business in New York — moved into the Office the Week Before.
A friend was coming down from Westchester to help me set up my Computer Systems, and I was to meet her at Grand Central at 9:45am.
My Partner saw me to the door, as I was heading off.
Our downstairs neighbor was heading slowly up the steps toward us — which was unusual all by itself — and looking somewhat eerily stunned.
“Have you guys heard the news this morning?” she asked.
We had not.
“A plane hit the World Trade Center!
They don’t know if it’s an accident or terrorism or what.
I am just heading up to the roof to have a look.”
We joined her.
And there was that immortal image — a seminal indelible depiction of Man’s Inhumanity toward Man.
“I think I’ll take a picture” And I did.


From our RoofTop, that Fateful Morning. My Partner and our Neighbor, JANET, in the foreground.

I kissed my partner GoodBye and headed to meet my friend and head to work.
The mind simply cannot comprehend…
And so I somehow defaulted into the thought that this was still an ordinary day, with a fire in an office building, just like had happened dozens of times before in New York City.

I got on the train — I am on an outdoor elevated subway line.
Everyone was pretending to act normally, except that the image of the tower burning in the distance was in view out the subway car window.
Cell Phones were a newer phenomenon then.
I didn’t have one.
But a young man who did was dialing furiously.
I shall never forget the panic in his voice, as he called out,
“MOM??? MOM???? IS DAD ALIVE!!!???”
And in that moment, we all got it.
The mind’s natural protective instinct to simplify new experiences into something we’ve been through before so that we can feel safe was cracked open and sacrificed to the reality that there were People in that Tower.
People were dying.
A Lot of People.
I did not know it then, but one Friend’s Husband and another Friend’s Brother were among them.

I switched trains to the downtown line, and New York was still behaving as normal.
I got to Grand Central just in time to see my friend returning from the ticket window.
Being a Mom, she had two children to think of first, and she got off the train and immediately purchased a ticket to get back on.
She had gotten the whole story from cell phone calls to passengers on the train sharing information with one another as it came in.
“I’m getting home and I suggest you do the same,” she told me.
“But, that’s’ all happening downtown. We’re safe here.”
“For NOW…” she admonished, and made it onto the last Train out of Grand Central that Day.

Now I was beginning to feel it.
I still could not absorb the impact of what was happening.
But it was one of those moments, as in a movie, where you are in the midst of a crowd in Grand Central Terminal, yet you are within the bubble of your own mind trying to figure out something so unfamiliar —
It’s sort of liquid, and of another dimension…
It suddenly occurred to me that I did not want to be underground at Grand Central Station, and it might be safer to walk to the office.
I headed across 42nd Street toward Times Square.

As I crossed Fifth Avenue, people were clustered en masse at the intersection looking South.
I didn’t understand what they were looking at, as I saw nothing but white.
A man wearing a turban, standing next to me, saw the confusion on my face, and explained in a very thick accent, “De Towl Fell.”
“De Towl Fell.”
I could not understand him.
I could not comprehend much of anything.
“De TOWL! It FELL!” he repeated, more directly, making a gesture with his arms of two Giant Tall Heights, and sweeping his arms down to his knees.”
I could not have understood him correctly because how could that be possible?
I thought how if something as tall as the World Trade Center fell onto its side, wouldn’t it reach way closer to where I was up on 42nd Street?
Did I need to get out of there?

Executives all along 42nd Street were sweeping out into the streets, like a Cell Phone Commercial, holding up their Cell Phones trying to get a connection.
There was none to be had.
Cell Phones weren’t working.
And Work had stopped.
I got to Times Square and decided that, whatever was actually happening, I needed to be with my Partner.
I would head home, but maybe not from Times Square.
I walked north to the next station, and rushed down the subway stairs.
A train was waiting.
I dashed on — Did I have a MetroCard then?
Maybe I used a Token.
I only know that once through the turnstile, I sprinted onto the train and sat down.
There were several people in that subway car, but the train didn’t move right away.
Suddenly, in the quiet underground, the Silence and Stillness told me everything I needed to know.
I asked the person next to me if this train had been sitting there an unusually long time.
“Not unusually long, no.” he replied calmly.
But it was in this moment that the Bigness of what was happening hit me.
The city was shutting down.
Suddenly the previous hour began to make sense, as a progression toward something — maybe even more terrible.
For me, the goal was to get Home.
I did not know that I would be safe there, but I knew that it was where I wanted to be, and once reunited with my Partner, we could figure out what to do.

Quietly, GEORGE W. BUSH sat in a children’s classroom in Florida, reading a children’s book out loud.
A Man of the Secret Service, as we now know, entered and whispered the news into his ear.
The then-President sat in silence for seven minutes, doing nothing.
The Deafening Silence seemed not to be a problem for him.
Let’s Never Forget that, either.

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

I launched from my seat on the train, to the payphone out on the platform.
I called my partner.
He told me that the subways were shut down, about the plane that hit the Pentagon and Flight 93 crashing in a field in Pennsylvania.
At that time, no one knew why.
It appeared planes were falling from the sky and America was in the midst of an Attack.
I told him I would get home to him — I would walk, and it would take me awhile.

As I progressed from Midtown toward the Queensboro Bridge (which no Native New Yorker will ever call the Ed Koch Bridge!), more and more people joined the proletariat making their way home to family and loved ones.
People were parked on the streets with their Car Doors open and Radios blasting, so that we could hear snippets of random news reports.
Rumours circulated like wildfire!
“They found three bombs on the Queensboro Bridge!”
I heard that several times.
I wonder what kind of people respond to an all out crisis by making things like that up.

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

We were told that all exits from Manhattan had been blocked and no one would be permitted to leave the Island.
Arriving at the entrance to the bridge, there was one police officer with his patrol car trying to stop everyone.
“You cannot go onto the bridge,” he was shouting, flailing his arms.
But there were thousands of us, and only one of him.
(News reported since then tells us that the system in place to lock down Manhattan is now much more sophisticated, and capable of keeping us from leaving.)
Cement barricades were in place, and we would have to climb over them.
A Large-Framed, Young African American Girl was shouting at her boyfriend, “You expect me to Lift my Legs over that!?? I have on a Dress!”
“Honey,” I told her, as I awkwardly climbed over, “That is the Least of your Problems today!”
She shrugged in agreement, and lifted up her skirt, following me.
We walked in silence, everyone believing the bridge might blow at any moment, and praying we would get over safely before it happened.
So many People.
So Much Silence.
When I touched down in Queens, I felt so relieved.
I found a pay phone, and called my partner.
We cried, and I told him, “I’m about a half hour away now.
I’ll be home.”

When I got home, my phone was ringing, as it apparently had been.
My Mother was calling.
She was so Grateful I was safe.
She cried.
Her brother had died in World War II.
My father had fought in the War as well.
She knew the pain of waiting, wondering if someone would come home alive.
and now, she feared for her GrandChildren.

My Partner and I held one another, watching the news — the one station left we could get.
Later that day, we saw Tower 7 fall, live on the newscast, as the reporters ran to take cover.
And GEORGE W. BUSH got on the air to address a nation in so much pain, and told us to Go Shopping.
Never Forget!

ANDREA ARROYO's Artistic Rendering which appeared in the New York Times back then. I have never forgotten this image.

ANDREA ARROYO’s Artistic Rendering which appeared in the New York Times back then. I have never forgotten this image. Look Closely.

When I was a kid, we got these paper calendars — they were very small, maybe 3” x 5”.
They had colored pictures printed on Holidays.
They noted D-Day (No one could really ever explain to me why it was called that) on June 6th,
V-J Day on September 2nd,
V-E Day on May 8th,
and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7th.
I did not understand these days — How were they Holidays?
How did they get a Color Picture?
I would ask my MOM what we were to do on these Holidays.
It seemed as though on most Holidays, we had specific rituals — Christmas, ThanksGiving, Halloween, Easter… there were things we did.
But what were these occasions? How were we to celebrate?
She would explain to me patiently that we could pray, or go to Mass,
Or just silently remember those whose lives were lost.
That had been twenty years earlier, and I had no direct connection to what had happened,
But to the Generation before me, these Days seemed laden with significance and memories.
I imagine we are coming into a time when parents will be explaining what happened on 9/11 to a generation of kids who want to know why the Google Doodle is a black Ribbon today.
And, like my MOM before them, they will tear up,
Hoping that their child will never have to know the pain and sorrow of a Day like that again.

Fifteen years have passed.
We have grown as a Country.
We have grown as a World.
We have grown as People.
We have cried for help
For Peace
For Answers…

Perhaps as individuals, we have discovered more about our Gifts
About our Priorities
About our place in the World
About our Journey Toward Peace…

Perhaps this Day is not without meaning to our Children and our Children’s Children.
People I’d never met, who fought on the beaches of Normandy and brought Peace to the World fifteen years before I was born,
Made a difference to the World into which I arrived,
And thereby to me.
Perhaps, in the same way, the experiences of those lost on this Day,
Fifteen years ago,
And those whose lives have been lost since,
Will make a difference to those who are to come.

This day resonates with sadness
But also with Hope
Hope for a More Peaceful Unity in the World
Hope for Greater Cross-Cultural Understanding
Hope for What is to Come.

Imagine, if that were the result of the actions of these inviduals.
Then, the Terrorists truly will have Lost.
And Everybody Wins.

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

Spontaneous Memorials cropped up all over the city in the days following 9/11/2001

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