It used to bother me when, fresh back from NYC, I’d hear my Windy City friends talking about the horror that was September 11 (2001). Maybe it was my youth, or maybe it was because the aftermath – the shock and disbelief – was still so raw to me, having lived there and seen it – but I was, admittedly, unnecessarily critical of them.
I used to sit and listen to them talk about how scared they were that their non-descript Chicago skyscraper office tower would be hit by a terrorist madman; or that the L – which is above ground in many parts of the city – would be attacked and they would be stuck. And I’d shake my head and get angry and leave the room.
Or sometimes, I’d share with them what it was like to be there; to see it; to not be able to see movies or television programs without anxiety swelling up thru my neck and throat, my heart hurting and my eyes watering uncontrollably.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years; that children born to those who perished that year are now in middle school; that they’ve lived this long without one (or both) parents. And yet, I can recall the day like yesterday.
As a child, I’d listen to my parents talk about the day that JFK was assassinated, or when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, in total disbelief that they could recall EXACTLY what happened at that moment in their lives. They could recall, with clarity and detail I found incredible, exactly how they felt or what their parents said. And, now, at the ripe old age of 34, I understand. I understand because I, too, do the same thing now.
11 years ago, I rolled out of bed like it was any other day of my 23rd year on earth. I went to the gym, I got dressed while I chatted with the other ladies in the locker room at New York Sports Club and I buzzed out the door to hop on the subway at Grand Central Station. It was a big day for me – I was pitching the New York New Media Association’s annual technology summit (taking place that week) to the local reporters – efforting to get better coverage than I’d ever had before for an event.
I arrived at the office nice and early – sat down at my desk and turned on the computer while I went to get coffee and cereal. Returning to my desk, my phone light was BLAZING and the phone was ringing. I had 5 new messages all from that morning!
I thought, “Man, my pitching skills are AMAZING” – until I saw they were all from my mom.
Then my AOL messenger popped up. It was mom. Again. I was about to delete when I read: did you see the news? A plane flew into the World Trade Center!!!! We are under attack.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where are you? CALL ME NOW
So, that’s what I did. I assured her I was ok and then ran into the president’s office to flip on the TV. And, when others arrived at the office, we ran to the other side of the building and….as we watched….the second plane hit.
Smoke billowing from everywhere, and our offices a mere 2 miles from the site of devastation, my mind went to the friends who worked in the towers …. My “boyfriend” being one of them.
I dialed my phone frantically and failed to reach anyone. I cried. I was scared, and yet, calm.
The office sent us home.
But my home was by the UN – and there was still a plane at large. We did not know that the heros of flight 93 would surface that day to save hundreds thousands of lives. So, two older and wiser friends decided I would go home with one of them, to the West Village, to wait it out.
As we walked from the office to her small, but cozy, light-filled studio apartment, the silence was deafening. My city….MY BIG APPLE…..was stunned silent.
You’d imagine that the chaos and hustle bustle would be ever-present. But, alas, the calm prevailed. Kindness prevailed. Strangers made eye contact that said, we are all scared and yet, we are strong and must be strong for those who cannot be strong now. We were united in that moment of grief and, for many, still are united.
Eventually, I heard from a few friends – including the boyfriend – and learned they were all OK. And, as the day progressed, we all found ourselves transfixed to the news – to the repeated footage of the planes; the repeated footage of the buildings crumbling to the ground; to the repeated sounds bites of women, children and men crying screaming out in pain for those who were lost or missing or dead or injured.
But, as I recount this story, what stands out is not the pain or the suffering. Not the injustice of it all – because, and believe me, it was an injustice to all of us…..but rather, the beauty I found in the way we rallied together. The love and patriotism that I’d never experienced. The kindness of strangers. The strength we all found, together and alone, to carry on and continue to live.
To live for those who were denied that opportunity.
And so, today, 11 years later, we remember. We remember those who tried to stop us from carrying on with our way of life. We remember those who are threatened by our democracy and the premise of our great nation. We honor those who, willingly or not, died for our country. We honor the first responders who risked life and limb and still do. We honor the soldiers who protect us.
We honor each other for being strong, kind and good.
I no longer resent those who have their own story to tell – no matter how far or near they were to that day. I no longer think my story is more important than some. Instead, I see it as one of 1 million stories that make up what history books cannot teach. The stories, you see, make up the truth….the stories teach.
I hope that they will teach that kindness and honor, democracy and liberty, courage and strength of heart will champion evil.