I remember assuming that the first plane hit the North Tower by accident. I remember seeing black smoke pouring out of the building, and cursing humanity for building structures unreachable by fire truck ladders. After the South Tower was hit, I remember being unsure whether I should evacuate the building and wondering whether it was safer to get home above ground or underground. I remember deciding to heed my colleagues's call from WNBC when he asked for help writing for WNBC's website. Off I went to the 7th floor thinking that surely it'd be easier to evacuate from there then it would have been from my now-desolate 26th floor. I spent the first days writing news posts, learning to spell "Osama bin Laden" as the news of his responsibility floated from desk to desk.
But what I remember most, besides the smoke in the air and the shock of seeing NYC crumble before me, was my days putting up pictures of missing people. After being bombarded by phone calls and emails asking for pictures of the missing to put up, the news director, Diane Doctor, decided we should take on the task that no other network was tackling. Soon we were flooded with thousands of pictures with names, sometimes Social Security numbers and one phone number listed after another just in case. Over and over again, I'd receive the same photo from a concerned husband, an aunt and a cousin. I learned of spouses, siblings and pairs of parents and their grown children working for the same company, both missing. There were older executives and young adults that had vanished. Newlyweds and the newly hired. Bus boys and CEOs had vanished in the same instant. Neither money nor job title had protected any of the victims and it made me cringe at my own trivial financial concerns.
I'd moved to New York City only 17 months before 9/11 and I didn't think I'd know anyone in the towers, much less on the planes. However, I soon learned that Jim Gartenberg, my alumnae club's kind and friendly president had died in the towers, but only after calling a news station to calmly describe the situation and saying his goodbyes to his family. It was to have been his last day at work. Then I got a call saying that my friend Debbie Welsh, a fellow alto in my church choir, had been the lead flight attendant in the flight which crashed in Pennsylvania. She was vibrant, funny and liked to regale me with the story of her almost getting arrested in Bolivia and now she was gone.
My lesson from that sunny Tuesday is that I am lucky to have survived that day physically unscathed. Emotionally, it was a bit tougher to recover. I wasn't scared about staying in NYC, but it was odd juggling singing at Debbie's memorial and celebrating my niece's 2nd birthday the next day. I was grateful that my sister and her husband had left their jobs in the buildings neighboring the World Trade Center, but didn't know how to cope with the loss of my friends. Unlike people who had worked downtown, I had an office and job to return to, but after seven days of posting pictures of people I knew had died, I burst into tears in front of my boss. I went back down to the newsroom though and finished the job because family members had already told me how grateful they were to have their loved ones picture up for the world to see just in case. They had hope where I had none.
Maybe, just maybe, that's how people in war-torn countries survive. When their houses are bombed and when their families are taken away in the middle of the night, maybe they have hope that things will change and they will be better. Even though we had just survived something horrific, I could understand that we were lucky that acts of terrorism didn't strike the US daily, like they did in thousands of other countries.
The spirit of my fellow New Yorkers the evening of 9/11 was somber, but united. I learned that we could all come together. After all, we were all in this--whatever this was--together. People were kinder, gentler and spoke more softly those next few weeks. For me, 9/11 confirmed that there was true evil in this world. I always knew there were bad people, but never had evil come so close to me and touched me so deeply. But 9/11 also confirmed there were good people everywhere. People came from all over the country to help firefighters, doctors and families that needed a hand. New Yorkers gave each other rides and a couch to stay on. For a few days, weeks and months, every New Yorker and many Americans could be counted on for a shoulder to cry on. When I ran the NYC Marathon two months later, people flew in from all over the world to run it, despite the risk of flying and being in New York.
Twelve years later, as I try to raise my children to feel safe in an unpredictable world, I hope that they too possess the courage, love and hope that was vividly on display on 9/11. In the meantime, I remember both the innocence and the people we lost that day and value every lesson that 9/11 revealed.