Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, I was a single, vibrant woman, having recently moved to the metropolitan New York City area for a new job.  I was adjusting to living alone and working in the city and had just spent a wonderful summer enjoying New York City.

I had no idea that Tuesday, September 11, 2001, would change my life forever.

I worked in Midtown Manhattan, about a block from the Empire State Building.  I was sitting at my desk when the first call came: "Glad to hear you are at your desk; I know sometimes you go to the WTC and I just saw on the news that a plane hit it," a friend told me.  "Be safe, okay?"

Immediately, I checked online feeds for news and told other coworkers to check as well.  We had no clue what was happening.  We all thought it was an accident, that soon everything would be resolved.  Some time later, the same friend called me, "Get out of NYC," she told me, "A second plane just hit the second tower."  

The sinking in my stomach grew, but I was frozen, not knowing what to do.  It's interesting how your response can be in a situation like this.  Those moments played out in slow-motion: picking up the phone, calling both my parents at work to tell them I was okay, that we didn't know what was going on, but I was, indeed, okay; watching a coworker come into the office, tears streaming down her face, telling us she saw a plane hit a tower; sitting a conference room watching the events unfold and hearing a collective gasp when we learned about a plane at the Pentagon; I even remember a supervisor approaching the team I worked with and demanding a report for a meeting.

The office I worked in was on the east side of the island, and our windows faced east.  We had no view of the towers from where we were, but I will forever remember looking out our window, and seeing people on the street looking downtown, their faces frozen in horror.

I sat with my coworkers and watched as the first, then the second tower came down.  We all cried together and we faced the uncertainty of what was happening just a few miles away from us, not to mention what was happening to the entire nation.  We hugged, we held one other, we sat in complete silence.

It's interesting, we worked a block from the Empire State Building, and we were never evacuated.  Groups of us began gathering our belongings, making arrangements for the rest of the day.  For those us who did not live in Manhattan, we had no where to go - all bridges, tunnels, subways, buses and trains were halted.  

So we walked north.  And walked.  And walked.  We held hands with complete strangers, some without shoes, some covered in soot.  We listened to stories as we walked, eventually sitting down to eat lunch.  And during lunch, we talked about the day, the uncertainty of what would happen, of how many lives had been lost.  We eventually made it the apartment of a coworker, and sat down to watch the news.  We were consumed with it all, we could not get enough information.  

No one said it that day, but we knew that life as we knew it had completely changed.  Yes, we were grown working professionals, but that day, we lost a sliver of our innocence and naivete.

Nearly 24 hours later, I made it home to my small apartment in New Jersey.  And after one day of reflection, I headed back to Manhattan to work.  A dark cloud hovered over the island for weeks, both literally and figuratively.  But we worked.  I was fortunate enough to work at the United Way of New York City and witnessed the generosity of so many people who supported the September 11th Fund.  The outpouring of love and support was beyond anything I had ever experienced.

I don't only remember this day on the anniversary of that terrible day; I remember each and everyday.  I have always been proud of being an American, of living in this great country.  But after September 11, 2001, I've never been prouder of being an American. 

To all those that shared that day with me - you are etched in my heartforever.  

To those who work tirelessly to make sure we are safe - Thank You.

I honor those who lost their lives that day so innocently, the children who lost parents, parents who lost a child, men and women who lost their spouses.  Not only today, but forever.

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