Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11-2001 - Never Forget

Today, I break from posts about running to remember the events of September 11, 2001. On that day, I was a senior in college, asleep on my futon. With the head of my bed closest to our phone, I was the one to pick it up when it rang that beautiful sunny September morning. I heard my roommate's boyfriend (now husband) ask for her, and he sounded so terrible, I thought someone in his family had died. In shock as she listened to him, she told me to put on the tv and we saw the results of the first plane's hit on the North Tower. I knew my dad was supposed to fly to Portugal that day for a conference, and had it in my head that his flight was that morning. In a panic, I managed to get him on the phone before the lines were too busy with frantic calls from loved ones and found out his flight was supposed to be later that day. Since then, I've heard so many stories like that of near escapes and plain luck.

My roommate and I watched in shock and horror as the second plane crashed into the South Tower. We called our friends in the next dorm to see if they'd heard the news, and found out that one of them had a cousin who worked there (we later found out that she was just in the lobby when the plane hit, and managed to get out safely). We decided that we just wanted to be together, so I vaguely remember rushing around to throw on some clothes so we could head over there. I was standing at the sink, my roommate at her dresser, when we heard Matt Lauer say the South Tower had collapsed. I thought he must be kidding, and we rushed back to the tv to see that it was true. After we reached our friend's dorm room, the four of us watched the North Tower collapse, at first believing it to be re-aired footage of the first collapse.

At that time, it felt like pure chaos. On the news, they were saying that more than 30 planes were unaccounted for, and as we heard about the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of flight 93, I wondered when it would end. It felt like the end of the world. We were devastated, horrified, scared, and overwhelmed. Finally, there was an eerie calm as we tried to make sense of it. I still had to go to my job, first a lunch with my boss and another student - my boss was originally from Rockland county, so she knew firefighters in New York. I'm not sure how that lunch went because we were both in a fog, but I do remember watching the coverage with her when we got back to the computer lab where I worked. We were still in shock.

The campus posted a website where they would update the names of those who had confirmed that they were okay in New York and D.C., so we watched for friends' names to pop up. Our college lost three alumni that day. The school put together a hasty memorial service for that night and most professors cancelled classes. The next day, I was with three classmates on an errand when the 7pm memorial time started - the President had called the nation to stand outside with candles at that time, in memory of those we had lost. I stood in a parking lot with these three friends for an hour, until candle wax was melting over our fingers and the flame was threatening to burn out. Motorists honked and waved. More people joined us and we cried together. But it was comforting, the togetherness. I always think of that night on the 9/11 anniversary.

And I think about my dad. My dad who almost worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and was almost working there that day. My dad, who had to sit in his office alone and watch friends and former colleagues perish as the towers fell. What a nightmare for him, but how fortunate for my family that his life had taken a different turn. I think of those friends. Kevin Dennis, a stock broker for Cantor Fitzgerald, who left behind his wife and two young twin sons. Randy Scott, a broker at Euro Traders, who left behind his wife and three daughters and who I can still remember sitting on the couch in our living room in Old Tappan. And many more. It reminds me that just because time passes, the loss is no less great. I saw some of the young children at the memorial today, and knew that they may have never known the loved ones their families were mourning.

Since 9/11, I have watched friends and family serve overseas because of the events of that day - my brother-in-law, cousin, their friends and our friends. Their service and the sacrifice of their families reminds me of 9/11. And I long for that sense of unity and community I felt in the days and weeks after the terrible events of that day - the sense that we could all get through this together.

Today, as I watched the families and volunteer representatives read the almost 3,000 names, I cried along with the family members who broke down remembering their loved one. I thought about how I would feel if it were my sister, my father, my husband, my best friend lost that day. My heart goes out to them and I hope they can find strength and peace today. A father who had lost his son said that it wasn't raining today - that these were tears. I think he's right.

9/11 - We will never forget.

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