Everything closed around us on September 11th as businesses retail and otherwise closed and sent their employees home. We gathered together, hugging our family and trying sometimes for hours to contact loved ones elsewhere to let them know we were okay. My nephew’s father called at one point – late in the evening after hours spent on both sides trying to contact each other. His relief that his son and his son’s mother were all right was palpable over the phone.
The Story Unfolded
In the days afterward, this country battened down the hatches as recovery efforts in New York and D.C. continued. International flights were diverted to a small spot in Canada where they remained for a few days until they were allowed to continue on. September 12 was a day of mourning as businesses remained closed. The flights were still grounded and it was still silent except for the sounds of jets that we could hear and once saw flying their patrols.
New reports fed us bits and pieces of the story as they were put together – but even as we wondered who did it and why it happened – we saw the victims of the tragedy. We saw President Bush stand up and share most eloquently his sympathy and determination with the American people. We saw Rudy Giulani, Mayor of New York step up to the plate.
We mourned those lost on the flights as their names were made public and details of farewell phone calls and the stories of heroism continued to filter through. I remember reading the passenger manifests from the flight and feeling my heart twist for entire families who were lost. On the 13th, I met someone who’s entire company – all 11 people, besides themselves, perished in their offices at the World Trade Center. The hollow look in his eyes as he talked about them tore at my heart.
Heroes in Our Time
The New York Transit Authority, the Firefighters, the off duty marines and the every day people who ran, not walked, to the site of the disaster and started throwing themselves into the recovery still takes my breath away. The full scope of it all would take time to sink in. It would take weeks and months to sift through the rubble and to understand what happened.
My family stayed another week before flights were allowed once again and I remember chewing on my knuckles for the hours it took for them to fly home. I was almost weak with relief when it all happened without incident. More stories came and went, but the one story that stood out in my mind from those days afterward were the mother and young child who were flying from Boston to Los Angeles for a vacation. Her best friend hadn’t been able to go with them, but at the last minute – she was able to get on a flight to meet them out there and join them. The mother and child were on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. The best friend was on the second.
Over the days and weeks that followed, more and more I noticed the people around me and that they were noticing the people around them. Strangers made eye contact and said hello. They inquired after each other and for a time – it seemed that none of us were strangers at all. After September 11th, none of us were strangers.
No matter who we were and who we knew and whether we physically lost someone that day – it affected all of us – white, black, Hispanic or Oriental. Whether we were born in this country or moved here later. We were all affected. Five years later, this day continues to define much of what we as a nation have been through.
Whether you agree or disagree with policy here or aboard, we are still united as a people – because we have the right to disagree – that doesn’t diminish us – it makes us stronger. So remember September 11th, remember those who died, remember those who survived and remember today to lift your head and look your fellow American in the eyes and smile.