I am a day late with this post, but I think pondering the impacts of 9/11 is not something that stops when you turn the calendar.
At my present job I work with people of different ages. Yesterday there was a discussion at work of “Where were you when…?” One of the women I work with said, “I was in school…in 6th grade.” YIKES!
After this discussion, I decided to pull out an essay I wrote right after it happened. Someone on Craig’s List was looking for essays for a story collection about the event. Mine was not accepted, but now I’m glad I wrote it. Every time I read it, I will truly remember what that felt like for me: the confusion…the sorrow. I thought I’d share it here:
Halfway through 2001, I began to seriously question my career choice and my life’s purpose. In June, a coworker lost his only son, at eighteen years old, to a freak baseball accident. One minute he was proudly watching his son play a favorite sport, and an hour later, after an outfield collision, his son was dead. Though I had never met his son, I sat at my desk and cried for him.
Then in August my grandmother died. For most of my life I had been spared having to deal with death. The frustration and pain of watching my father, an only child, deal with the death of his beloved mother weighed on me. I wanted to spend more time with my family and less time being stressed out at work. I continued to go about my daily routine with growing feelings of discontent and inexplicable anxiety.
September 11th seemed like a normal morning. Per my routine, I got to work at 8:00 am, turned on my computer, and checked my email. Most people in my department got in at 9:00 am, so my first hour every day was casual and quiet. I made a cup of tea and wandered across the hall to visit a coworker who was also an early bird. We chatted about our beloved cats’ antics: light, pass-the-time conversation.
Just before 9:00 am, our proofreader rushed frantically down the hall and into the office. He was normally a quiet man who kept to his cubby, so it was a shock to see him down our end of the hall. We stopped our conversation abruptly when we saw his flushed face. Clearly upset, he told us there were planes circling and bombing the World Trade Center.
We were stunned. What he said was inconceivable. He told us that it was happening just as he was leaving the house. He lived around the corner and walked to work; he must have practically run this morning.
All I could think of was “Find a radio!” I repeated the proofreader’s words to everyone I saw during my radio search, unknowing that I was spreading distorted news, as if we were playing the childhood “telephone” game.
Our boss suddenly appeared, rushing down the hallway. She told us she heard on her car radio that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. As the later arrivals tumbled in, in various emotional states, radios were turned on, and people clustered in offices. Then, as we listened, they announced that a plane had hit the Pentagon. “We’re under attack!” someone yelled. It might have been me; I know I was thinking it.
I felt numb, petrified. I thought the world was coming to an end. Everything I had felt in the last few months seemed like it was leading up to this moment. Why hadn’t I done something before?
Someone said there was a TV on in the gym and another one set up in the boardroom. No one worried about not getting work done. The country was in crises. I reached the TV in time to watch the second tower crumble to the ground, and as the newscasters talked about another missing plane, I left the room to cry alone. I felt like I couldn’t bear any more.
And I was lucky. No one I knew was on any of the planes, or in the twin towers, or the Pentagon. I didn’t have to run to a telephone and try to call relatives or friends only to hear a busy signal in my ear. I didn’t have to receive any final voice mail message that they loved me. I went back to my office and stared at my computer. What was I doing here? Same as what those poor people were doing…going about my daily life. There should be a sense of comfort, strength, and pride in that. This was life.
Turned out there was someone I had never met, who I had spoken with on the phone at work, who was in one of the buildings and managed to get out and survive. We talked of it VERY briefly a year later. He said he was grateful every day. Not long after our conversation, he was in a car accident with his family. He died, but the rest of his family lived. It absolutely gave me the shivers. Rereading my essay helps me put things in perspective and remember to be grateful, every day.