My 911 Story – 20 years later

September 10, 2001, the New York skyline included the parallel lines of the Twin Towers and I saw it every day on my way to work . The next day that view was gone. I worked at a company forty minutes from Manhattan. That morning I just finished breakfast in the cafeteria. I walked down a connecting hall with big windows. The sun was shining, geese were waddling through the grass, it was a good morning. Someone came bursting through the double doors.
“A plane hit one of the Twin Towers.”
“A plane,” she yelled hysterical. “It’s terrible.” She ran off and left me standing in shock and confusion. I joined my co-workers all huddled around a small radio. (Very few people had cell phones with data in those days). We listened in horror as the magnitude of what was happening mushroomed into both buildings collapsing, another plane hitting the Pentagon and another plane down somewhere in Pennsylvania. Some cried, some just stared out the window, most of us got busy calling loved ones, making arrangements to pick kids up from school. Everyone assumed the worst; it wasn’t over and who knew where the next target would be.

My kids went to a small school. They let out early not telling any details. We learned later two families had loved ones lost in the attack. The television stayed on CNN news, with a new feature of scrolling updates at the bottom. The kids didn’t notice that the skies were quiet. They didn’t miss that there were no baseball games. Those first few days the ripple of terror, knocked us over with fear we had never known, an uncertainty if we were safe.

But then it happened. The shock gave way to “what can we do?”.
Flags appeared everywhere; bridges, billboards, store windows, most cars had one attached to the window flying in red, white and blue blurs down the highway. People rallied together. I went into the City to volunteer to arrange supplies to give to ground zero workers. I walked past the makeshift boards where photos of people were posted along with flowers and candles. It sank in my spirit deeply to read desperate notes like, “Please call if you see Joe, fourth floor Tower One”. To this day I can still hear in my mind the muffled weird sound of the fire engines clogged with dust and I can see the replay of the news with the plume of debris chasing people down the street.

At lunch one day that first week, some co-workers and I went to a prayer vigil at a local church. It wasn’t our town. It wasn’t our church, yet we joined in with strangers. The unity among us was comforting, like a thick blanket.

The twin towers disappeared from the New York City skyline twenty years ago. Something good rose up from those painful, sorrowful ashes, that we didn’t know was there. When we were vulnerable as people, we came together as one, without division and meaningless walls. We helped each other weather the storm and did it well. Let’s not forget that.

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