Sunday, September 11, 2011

09/11/2011-Remembering Back To That Tragic Day Ten Years Ago

Today is the 11th of September 2011, a full ten years from the day that two planes crashed into the World Trade Center Towers here in New York, ten years since another plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC, another hijacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania thanks to the heroic efforts of the passengers on board. 2819 souls lost their lives that day in a matter of hours, and America was changed forever.

Looking out the window of my small apartment at the steely gray, overcast sky the weather fits my mood as I recall that day, remembering how it all unfolded, each second seemingly more tragic than the one before, even though we all kept swearing it could not get any worse. That morning my wife for some unknown reason had asked me to drive her into work, saying she needed a break from the commute, so unlike most days we were together, driving into New York City (the Bronx), traveling South on the Taconic Parkway just before it becomes the Sprain when the first radio reports came in saying a plane had crashed into the first tower.

Not sure why, but turned to my wife and said, "We are under attack". I knew that a commercial jet flying into any building like that was no accident, knew much like in the "Miracle on the Hudson" that the pilot, if there were mechanical issues, would do everything humanly possible to mitigate both the loss of human life, and damage to infrastructure...especially in broad daylight. 8:46 AM, and all of our lives had forever changed, already everyone on that plane dead, more dead or severely injured in that first tower. America was under attack.

We were on Interstate 87, almost too the college, trying to digest the news when at 9:02 the second plane flew into the adjoining tower...we sat in stunned silence, wanting nothing more than to get onto the campus and find a television.

It was the job of my wife, and numerous others on her campus to safely shut-down the college, take care of the students, so as soon as the car was parked we both made our way over to the Vice Presidents office/reception area in the building she works in. Coming through the door all you could see were red, tear stained eyes, a group of people sitting and standing around a small black and white television...hearing the news on the radio was devastating, watching it unfold in black and white, seeing the pictorial images on the air was heart wrenching as I tried to choke back my tears.

I was glued to the television screen at 9:42 when the first tower went down, wailed and wept as I dropped to my could not watch that tower come down without knowing everyone inside that was still alive had just died. How could a building that tall collapse in a mere 12 seconds, how could the people racing down the street escape from the cloud of smoke and debris coming towards them like a runaway tornado? By the time the second tower followed suit at 10:42 I was numb, shocked, sadder than I had ever been in my life, and yet there was work too be done, a campus had to be closed.

Not working there, I did what I could to help, while at the same time trying not to be in the way, so I headed out to the quad, and the scene said it all. A professor in a panic because his son worked in one of the towers, and he could not raise him on the cellphone. Students huddled in small groups, most of them crying, many of the people in those circles knowing someone who worked in the towers, a family member, friend or associate, no one have any success in getting in touch with anyone they knew who were in, or could be in those towers. Words come of your mouth at times like this, sentences formed with the best of intentions, yet sounding so hollow when spoken, "Probably the phone systems are overloaded, you just have to believe that your son is OK. Is there anything I can do to help, would you like to try on my cell phone, maybe my network is functioning."

By just after two in the afternoon, the campus secured and closed down, most of the remaining staff including my wife were told they might as well go home. Interstate 87, the Sprain, the Taconic all were eerily quiet as we made our way back north. Our side of the road all but devoid of vehicles, while on the other side, making their way down into Manhattan was an endless parade of emergency vehicles, our nation's first responders rushing toward the disaster, each of them perhaps saying a little prayer that they could still find survivors, pull them from the rubble, save their we all know, that just was not to be.

A friend of mine is a New York Fire Fighter, his Engine Company losing half their members on that tragic day...ten years later he does not want to talk about it, and I don't push. Another friend's daughter was there that day, inside one of the towers doing her banking. She survived but will never get over watching bodies falling from the sky. She was frozen in place, unable to move her feet. A perfect stranger, some man running for his own life grabbed her, tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried her to safety. At a rotary meeting in Briarcliff a few weeks later a woman spoke who had lost her husband...he was on the top floor eating breakfast that day, would never come home, would never know that on that very night, on 09/11/2001 his wife would give birth too their child.

Ten years later looking back as one who was at best only indirectly touched by this tragedy, I realize that day changed me forever. When I hear the roar of a plane overhead, I look up far more than I used to, get nervous when it seems to be flying too low to the ground, or the engine sounds as if it is straining. I am far more watchful now than I used to be, trips into Manhattan, walking through Grand Central Station see me looking, my eyes scanning the terrain looking for anything out of place, an unattended bag, a person who for whatever reasons looks out of place or suspicious immediately mentioned/reported to whatever first responder I happen to spot. That saddens me as I realize that America, the home of the free and land of the brave just is not as free as it used to be, and that I am not as brave as I once was. America changed that day, as did all of us that live in this great nation.

To those who perished that day, your sacrifices have not been forgotten, our thoughts are with you on this day of rememberance, and every day. Know that each of you, and that tragic day will never be forgotten. To those who lost loved ones, our prayers are still with you, and in small ways we both feel and share your pain, will always know exactly where it was, and what we were doing when America came under attack. God's speed too all those who were and have been touched by that day ten years ago.