9/11: A Brief Personal Reflection

I didn’t lose anyone on September 11, 2001.

I don’t even know anyone personally who lost a friend or loved one that day.

And because of that, I’ve always felt like an observer, like a voyeur who stood and watched this heinous, horrific thing happen to other people.

If I had to guess, I would say it’s because of the way I watched the attacks on The World Trade Center unfold: From a large office window in New Jersey, just close enough to know that what I was watching was real but far enough removed to be out of harm’s way.

Like most recounts of the day, mine starts with the weather.

Referring to the day as beautiful is an understatement. I remember heading out the door to my internship that morning and looking up at the sky, a colossal firmament of blue that didn’t house one single cloud. The air was warm and comfortable. That sort of temperature that tells you it’s still summer but reminds you that fall is just around the corner. Perfect.

At the time, I was interning at a company in Newark, NJ. The first day of my final year at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts was September 11. But I went to work that day because my classes weren’t scheduled to begin until the twelfth.

The first I heard about the terror attacks was during my 10 minute train ride into Newark. A woman sitting a few rows behind me got a phone call and then screamed: What?! A plane hit the twin towers?!

My first thought: A small single engine Cessna lost its way and must have clipped a wing on one of the buildings. Maybe some debris. A few people injured. No biggie.

When I got off of the train in Newark, I could see white smoke billowing from the north tower in the distance. That alone was a sight to see, but still, I didn’t think it was anything serious until I got into the office and went over to the secretary’s desk. She sat in front of a large window that faced east, overlooking New York City. Just as I started to talk to her about what was going on over in the city, a low flying plane flew into my eye line. It was descending. In less than five seconds, it continued to descend, made a slight turn towards the towers – and disappeared.

That’s when I realized that there was something going on here. Something way bigger than I could ever conceive.

At this point, a blanket of panic began to shroud the office. Folks started to scramble around for information. We all turned our desk radios to 1010 WINS, called loved ones, refreshed news websites for the latest information. One woman in my department breathed a sigh of relief when she was finally able to reach her mother who usually worked on the 86th floor of one of the towers but decided to take the day off.

At this point it was clear that we were under attack.

Remember, this was before social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter had hit the scene. Information didn’t exactly move at a snail’s pace ten years ago, but it surely wasn’t delivered at lightening speed like it is today.

The moment that’s the hardest for me to revisit isn’t when I saw a smokey World Trade Center skyline from the train station, or even when I saw the plane fly into the south tower. What still takes my breath away, ten years later, is the memory of watching the towers crumble and fall with a group of my coworkers. We were all huddled inside the corner office of one of the bosses who had a direct view of the entire lower Manhattan skyline.

When I saw the south tower collapse (the first of the two towers to fall), my heart sank. We stood there, gathered in the office speechless and stock-still, frozen with fear and disbelief.

After the second tower collapsed 29 minutes later, we all filed out of the office like defeated mindless zombies and went home for the day.

I’ll always remember September 11, 2001 as a day of unparalleled vulnerability. A day of evil that changed the world forever.

The day I first experienced what it really feels like to be terrorized.

 

  • I wish we could all pretend that it never happened. So sad and it feels like yesterday.