I woke up late, as usual. C was with me. I kissed him goodbye, wished him a good day, and we both got in our cars to go to work. It was probably around 9:15. My radio is always on in my car, tuned to a music station. It wasn't more than a few minutes before the DJ came on saying that a second jet had hit the World Trade Center, and this appeared to be an "attack on America".
This was before the phrase became overused, and it really struck me. I felt something deep within me go cold in stunned shock. A second jet?? Crashing into a skyscraper?? Planes attacking buildings??? I switched the radio to an AM news station, and I started to listen to the conflicting and horrifying reports of the tragedy that had occurred, was still occurring.
When I got to work, the first thing I did was pull out my little desk radio, which I never use anymore, fix it (there was a cassette tape stuck inside), and tune it to that same news station. I just sat there, trying to work, listening to the radio. I didn't speak to anybody for a long time. I didn't have anything to say.
Somebody figured out how to set up our video conferencing equipment to receive TV signals, and they turned the news on in the conference room. People drifted about my office, listening to the news, watching the news, talking to one another. Both rumors and facts were flying (but all planes were grounded). Five airplanes had crashed? The Air Force had shot down one plane themselves? A helicopter crashed in Camp David? 10,000 people worked in the twin towers. Buildings were being evacuated all over the country. I kept looking at the tall building out my window (Top of Troy, only around 40 floors high, but the tallest building for miles around here) and trying to picture a plane flying into it. I couldn't.
They closed our office and let everyone go early. We were all too distracted to really work anyway. Listening and watching the news. Talking. Parents were longing to go find their children and hug them. Staring out the window at the peaceful-looking day, the empty blue sky.
I was confused enough that I couldn't remember where in New York the WTC was located. I had a map of the city sitting in my desk drawer, and pulled it out and found the building. Then I identified where my aunt and cousin lived, and saw with relief it was nowhere near. I didn't know where my cousins worked though, so I couldn't be sure everyone was okay. Just hope.
When I left work, I drove immediately to the Red Cross. I figured the only thing I could do to help those poor souls so many miles away was to donate blood. Surely they would need tons and tons of it. I kept thinking about the comparatively small explosion at the Ford plant a few years ago, and how much blood they had needed for only a few injured workers. I wasn't the only one with that idea. The blood center was packed, with a 3 to 4 hour wait, and they were passing out numbers. I took a number and said I'd come back in a few hours.
Then I went home. I put my flag out. Traditionally when a tragedy occurs, public flags are flown at half-mast. I contemplated trying to put mine at half-mast, but it wasn't really made to do that. At least by putting it out, I thought I could honor those suffering. I turned my television on. This was the first time I really saw footage of what had happened....up until then I'd just been listening to the radio. I watched in horror for quite some time.
Then, I heard a loud boom, and my power went out briefly, coming back on in about 20 seconds. I went to my door, looked out, saw nothing amiss. I walked cautiously outside, scanning the skies. Several of my neighbors were also on the street, asking one another, "Did you hear that? Did you lose power? What happened??" I kept looking up, expecting to see an errant plane, or smoke, or something. We didn't hear or see anything more; I still don't know what that noise was, but everything was fine.
Eventually I got myself a book to read and went back to the Red Cross. As expected I waited for a long while, and eventually I gave blood -- they gave me a pin because I had reached my second gallon of blood donated over my lifetime. So many people lined the streets all over the nation to give blood. But the tragedy was such that they didn't need hardly any of it...almost nobody was pulled alive from that rubble.
Mostly I watched the events in mute horror. There are three things that stand out in my mind, as I remember that day.
I remember the relatives, holding pieces of paper with their missing loved ones' photographs. Begging the camera, anybody, to find them and bring them home. That was the only time I cried, when I saw the hopeful-terrified-griefstricken faces on that screen. I too have had somebody so dear to me ripped violently away in the prime of his life. I too have experienced similar horror and grief, and had my life forever drastically changed. My heart ached in remembered pain, sharing their suffering.
Secondly, I remember the jumpers. People were jumping from the top floors of the towers, holding hands. That image, that concept, stays with me and sends shivers down my spine every time I think of it. I try to imagine what that must have been like, facing pain, destruction, and certain death, to stand there with a person who up until now has been just a coworker, an associate, somebody you had lunch with on wednesdays perhaps. And making that decision: to jump together, to die together. I can't even imagine being in that impossible situation, not really, although I have often this past year thought about it. Feeling the searing heat and fire behind me, realizing the inevitable and choosing to take control over my fate, clinging to a stranger's hand, looking at the pavement cars and street hundreds of feet away, and jumping....
Finally, I remember the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. It doesn't get mentioned as much anymore. But who knows how much more death and destruction we might have experienced, had not those civilians bravely decided to fight back, and try to overpower their terrorists. They all lost their lives, but they probably saved hundreds if not thousands of lives when that plane dropped in a rural area.
Although I live in Michigan, I have family in New York and Maryland. Thank God all were safe. I visited my New York relatives in December, and we decided to visit Ground Zero as well...to pay our respects I guess, and to face the reality of what happened.
Tragedies happen every day. People lose loved ones in awful ways, every day. People do brave, nobel, stupid, and crazy things, every single day. It is a part of life....but that doesn't make it any less traumatic for those involved. It was not a nation's tragedy; it is humanity's tragedy. That's the biggest thing that is important to me today: remembering and sharing in human suffering and triumph.
Life is very fragile. Cherish it as long as you can.