Thursday, September 9, 2010

My 9/11 Story - Part 1

I published this on my old blog, in 3 parts leading up to 9/11/2007. I have decided to republish them here. A few words on this... One, like much of my writing, this was an act of healing and catharsis. It is selfish. If you think that it is long, boring, self-focused, you may be correct. I wrote it for myself and put it out here. If you wish to read it, fine. If not, fine. Also, I wrote it at a different - very different - time of my life. Please factor that in when you read some of it and hear a certain tone. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

This is a chronicle of what happened to me on September 11, 2001. Please note that I was never directly in harms way, I was 5 miles from Ground Zero, I did not personally know anyone who perished there. Other than being in New York City that day and right after that time, I lost no one or nothing directly.

My heart goes out to those who lost friends, family members, loved ones, co-workers, business associates. These are wounds that may never be healed. I do know many people who did live through it and all of them have such remarkable stories from that day.

The days that followed were filled with anxiety and confusion. And the posters and pictures, all over Manhattan… “Have you seen…” It was at once, completely heartbreaking and compelling.

That day seems to be the defining moment in the contemporary history of the world. In an instant, the seemingly impenetrable U.S. was smashed and smashed hard. In another instant we had the support of the world. In yet another instant that was squandered, in my opinion, by a leader who is a weak bully with world dominion on his mind and some apocalyptic world-view.

Iran is on the horizon as a possible target of war and I am horrified to my core. I write letters, make phone calls, post blog entries and do what I can to keep my voice loud and clear. And yes, I pray. A lot. It is what I do. My commitment to life, freedom, justice and peace for all people and to this world is unwavering. With that in mind, here is my story.

This is written because I need to write it. If you choose to read it, I thank you deeply. If not, no harm done. It just has to come out of me right now.

My memories from this day actually go back to two prior events. One was in April of 2001. I had just returned from a trip to Spain; I was a chaperone with a high school teacher friend, to a group of 12 boys from a local Catholic school. That adventure may be fodder for another story on another day. Anyway, there is a photo from the Alhambra in Granada to the left.

Upon my return from this journey, a young man in my office had all kinds of questions for me. His questions indicated that he was raised to mistrust all foreigners, to believe that life outside our own borders was sub-par and that danger lurked in every corner, once you left U.S. soil.
Oh, and that there was no toilet paper! Since he was in his early 20’s and his parents were only slightly older than me, I found this deeply disturbing. That is how my mother was taught to view the world; I hoped I had broken the chain in our family, anyway. Clearly this family’s chain was unbroken. In fact it had been fortified. (Did people in 2001 still think Europeans had bad toilet paper?)

In any event, this led to a discussion of fear of terrorists, which for me at that time was a concept completely off the charts to me. Do I fear terrorists today? Well, let’s say I fear for the world and that a bunch of guys in Tora Bora aren’t what’s completely worrying me now. What I fear now I feared then - extremist, dogmatic ideologues that want me to see their point of view or kill me. That is what I fear, no matter who they are or where they are from.

So we ended up having a big history discussion where I recommended that he study some past events as related to Spanish and world history. I believe I introduced him to the word xenophobic. He seemed to view any idea that did not glorify America, as anti-American. We talked about the idea that fanatical behavior and extremism were the problem; not Islam. Spin the wheel of world history and find someone intent on going over the edge, add one despot and mix well. That is the recipe of violence, division, fundamentalism and extremism over time.

In 14th century Spain, for good or ill, it was Los Reyes Catolicos (aka King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) that were of a more fanatical bend. It was the Muslim world of southern Spain, al-Andalus that was a light in the otherwise darkness of the Middle Ages in Europe. In this young man’s eyes, extremist and Muslim were of one definition.

As for me, I am always grateful to have been to Andalusia (as it is called now) in southern Spain two times. To experience what was once the civilization to be envied and admired and that shunted aside by despotic extremists with an eye towards world domination. Hey wait, that sounds familiar!

The other moment in time that was part of the definition of 9/11 for me was Sunday September 9, 2001. Shopping at the mall, I saw a display for a company that chartered a really small plane (2 passengers and a pilot) that was being advertised for “special occasions”. A rather large cardboard cutout showed a fashionably dressed couple getting into the plane and another image of the plane on a clear night, flying with the Twin Towers as a backdrop. “Happy Anniversary Honey!” – it did not appeal to me!

Fast forward to 9/11, Tuesday morning. It is a glorious day. I go to work in mid-town Manhattan wearing a new suit and brand new shoes. The day is really spectacular. I get to work around 8am, coming from my suburban home. While sitting at my desk, someone comes to my door and shouts, “a plane flew into the World Trade Center!” Immediately I clicked onto Yahoo (I am not even sure Google existed yet, if you can believe that!) and saw a photo image of the smoking tower.

My mind immediately conjured up an image of that tiny excursion plane, having somehow gotten off-course and hitting the building. Many of us had similar small-plane thoughts, but mine was tied directly to the display I had seen at the mall on Sunday.

As I tried to find more information about the event, my computer froze on Yahoo, so I just went back to what I was doing. Frankly I was not at all concerned. I mean - I felt bad, but...

Not too long after this, the young man with whom I had discussed Spain, xenophobia, toilet paper and history with shows up at my door. He is wild-eyed and clearly frantic. Practically in tears he says, “The other building… they flew into that too! It’s an attack! It’s an attack!”

Now I am preternaturally (still, I might point out) programmed to not react in that kind of fear. Actually if I am very honest, I am preternaturally programmed in a very fearful way, so as I result, I have tried to train myself to react otherwise. God has been very good to me in general, in keeping me on that particular path of openness. This is in direct contrast to having suffered from extreme PTSD at that time. And you wonder why I love God so? The reasons are many… Anyway, I digress.

Speaking of preternaturally disposed, I am very much hard-wired to sarcasm. We won’t even explore what that means in relation to my psyche right now; I have spent years on the couch examining that one. My immediate need was to say something to the effect of “yeah, right!” and to this day, I marvel at the fact that the words were in my throat. And they just stopped. Yes- just like that- I did not smart mouth him. I am grateful that I did not.

Now somehow, I knew that something was happening. And happening a scant 5 miles from where I was. Something was happening that I knew was very bad indeed.

The next few minutes are confused… People running in the halls, shouting different things, fear was palpable in the air. I tried to go onto the internet- it was jammed from before, still no access. Suddenly the phone was not working- I was trying to make phone calls. It was working and then not working. My cell phone was not working at all.

The order of all this will never be clear to me. I finally get through to a friend in New Jersey who is home on maternity leave… she is paralyzed with fear and can’t speak. All that she can say is that we are under attack. I finally hang up; she’s not making any sense.

My assistant is hysterical; her husband works at the World Financial Center, next door to the World Trade Center. My office neighbor is blank with fear; her sister-in-law is in the Towers. There are no shortage of stories similar to this. (For the record, those two people were both physically fine, although had to go through a lot to heal.)

Finally, I get a dial tone again and call my really close friends in Los Angeles; by now I am screaming, hysterical. One friend is an attorney in a big firm in a big tower downtown. My screeching and insane voice tells him not to go to work; I’ve woken him up, he has no idea what I am saying. He and his partner click on the TV while trying to get me take it easy. They see what is happening, they stop trying to get me to calm down. It is only a little after 6am in LA; I have warned them, I hang up.

All of a sudden I have this heightened awareness. Here I am on the 21st floor of a glass and steel tower – a place that no outside noise ever, ever permeates. Except for today- all of a sudden I my ears are filled with the sound of many sirens. It is surreal and otherworldly… You can’t hear the outside world here. Today you can. There must be some seriously very bad shit going down out there, is all I can think. Seriously very bad shit...

To be continued...


  1. The feelings of that day have not left me, and I was half a country away.

  2. I lived in Manhattan when the WTC was bombed the first time. Although it was/is logically ridiculous, when I saw pictures of the damage the bomb left (in the basement), I had this preternatural fear of what would have happened "had the Towers fallen over", towards me (where I lived . . . way up at Union Seminary! 116th St & Bdwy)

    Though, in a way, I was right. When the Towers fell, they DID fall on me. They fell on everyone, the whole world over.

    [9/11/01: I was in Sacramento CA (visiting then, where I live now), staying at my best friend's place. Her husband woke me up: "Come see. The whole world's going INSANE." Truer words.]

    Prayers for the dead, comfort for the bereaved...

  3. Thank you @Mnmom and @JCF for your comments.

  4. Amazingly compelling reportage, Fran.
    Living all the way over in Texas, one might think my family and I would not be affected by 9/11.
    Not true.
    My beloved Big Sis was due to fly to Paris on September 12 to celebrate her 50th birthday.
    Her partner had flown to Paris a few days earlier and was eagerly awaiting my sister's arrival.
    Then...>>kaboom<< No flights in or out of the USA.
    Usually reserved French people sought out my sister's partner and peppered her with hugs and words of support and sympathy.
    She was at sea, worried, disappointed, angry, and feeling like a stranger in a strange land.
    She was stranded in Paris until flights were okayed.
    My sister's Paris dream was demolished, thanks to the handful of haters who destroyed so many lives.
    It's just one story out of millions, but to my family it was a big one.

  5. Thank you Fran.

    I believe this post is so important and always will be not just for you but for all of us.

    That day changed everyone, no matter who they are or where they are.

    How we act in the future is still undetermined and evil is still very much a real force in our world but I agree with you that faith is the underpinning way and the only to get us through, as with all things in life but in this case a visceral faith which your blog explicitly and so eloquently portrays.


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