Alan Jackson asked the question best when he sang, “Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?” That beautiful, perfect September day, where the sky was blue and clear, hardly any clouds moved overhead. Mom’s and Dad’s were happy to have such a gorgeous day on which to send their children back to school. Oh, if it only had stayed an ordinary late summer day. Instead, we now reflect on that day and ask “where were you?”
I was sitting in the reception area of my company when the first plan hit. I don’t remember what I was doing, because I had no idea that the day was less than ordinary until our young IT guy showed up late. He was never late to work. He was usually one of the first people in the office so I joked with him about oversleeping, but he wasn’t laughing said there may have been a bomb in lower Manhattan, so there was a train delay. New York City (NYC) Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) rarely ever told you why the trains were delayed and this day was no exception. Those on the train knew it was something big, because the delays were longer than normal. Folks, started passing with little information they had which wasn’t much. But they knew it was big. The last something big was the 1993 Trade Center bombing. After the ’93 bombing, native New Yorkers who lived or worked in Manhattan took anything that sounded like a bomb treat seriously. So when, young IT guy said bomb, all joking stopped. I was incredulous.
Matt’s, that was the young IT guys’ name, assertion put us all on edge and sent it to the TV in the conference room hoping for updates from the local news. CNN was only saying that it was a crash, the assumption being that it was a small Cessna that went off it’s flight path. Our TV was, an older TV with snowy picture so the senior IT guy bought or found some rabbit ears to make it work.
While they were fiddling with the TV and rabbit ears, trying to get a clearer picture, I went back to the reception area to forward the main line to the conference room. As I was doing that, they saw the second hit. A jetliner flying into the South Tower. I didn’t see it that September day and 11 years later the replay is still haunting and very difficult to watch. The taught of it brings me to tears, especially of the people trapped above the resulting fires unable to escape; the first responders who were in the buildings evacuating people who did not know the order had been given to withdraw as the buildings had become too dangerous.
I’ve resisted writing, even in my personal journals about that September day, for years. I believed that the tragedy didn’t really affect me on a personal level. The fact is we all lost something that day. Every New Yorker either lost someone or knows someone who lost someone close to them. And then there are those like me who came close to losing a person in their family and friend circle. My Mom’s older brother, worked in the North Tower. He survived the ’93 bombing and 9/11. He is a man, held in the palm of God’s hand, even though during the attack his boys didn’t know if their Daddy was safe or not. The lines were jammed so I couldn’t reach anyone for hours to verify that he made it out before the collapse. I thank God that my cousins had their father’s guidance under which to grow to adult.
For hours, I couldn’t reach an old boyfriend of mine. It didn’t matter that we were broken up at that point, he was my first love and I worried that he had perished in the disaster. I finally reached his stern Jamaican mother and she confirmed that he was alive, just stuck in the area. I thank God for his life too, that he was spared to fall in love again. So many other have stories of missing their train, or an appointment that morning kept them from a date with death. I am thankful them too, even as I mourn with those who lost loved ones.
On that gorgeous Tuesday morning, I was in my office working. Collating expenses, following up on travel requests, so some other mundane administrative tasks. That September day my world wobbled. For a millisecond or two there was no movement and on resumption of the earth’s orbit, things had changed. Life was different, for me, for New York City, for America.
Do you remember where you were that September day?