I remember where I was 9 years ago. It was our one month wedding anniversary. I was driving into work, down Rt. 95, listening to NPR, Suddenly, classical music came to a halt, and they cut in to explain that a plane had crashed into the world trade center. Wow, I thought, what a terrible accident. I was almost to the library. It was just a bit after a quarter of 9. I arrived at the library, walked through the front doors, to my desk. Everyone was working as normal. “Turn on the radio. There’s been a plane crash – it crashed into the World Trade Center.” I turned on my computer, pulled up CNN.com – I remember it was still working fine at that point. The office radio came on; our ears glued to the news reports, still indicating an accident; when suddenly – another plane hit the other tower. It was 9:03. We were listening as it happened. There was a transformation in the room at that moment… a sense of confusion descended, as a plane crash (accident) turned to a double plane crash (how can that happen?). Was there something going on with radar systems? Were there other planes crashing? I don’t remember thinking of the people IN the buildings yet – just the planes, and how they could have possibly both crashed into huge buildings. Thinking, almost exactly: what was going on?
I called my husband at work – told him to turn on the radio, quickly. I was continually refreshing CNN.com – looking, maybe(?) for some indication this whole thing was a hoax? But CNN, CBS, NPR, all the websites were showing the same horrible scenes; and talk was starting about purposeful crashing of planes. The morning passed simultaneously syrup slow and lightening fast. I remember telling every student that came to the library front desk to check the news report – did you hear about the planes? Then immediately returning to my desk to check the news once again. CNN.com was starting to slow down. I remember feeling frustrated – I just wanted to know what was going on – why can’t the internet MOVE. At 9:37am, a plane hit the Pentagon. Anxiety. I felt it. Suddenly what had once been wow, then confusion, became terror. Panic. What is happening, right here, in my country, right now, in the city where I'd so recently worked? I called my husband again. My cell phone didn’t connect.
I kept calling, as we all moved down to the library’s basement – to the AV room, where they had a television set up. All of the library staff was there, crowded into a small room, around a tiny television. I think there were students there too – what I remember most was being surrounded by people – all of us scared, confused, staring at the screen, which was showing constant footage of two towers billowing black smoke, interspersed with images of the chaos on the ground in front of the smoking Pentagon building. I remember saying, “I used to work right there.” (I had worked briefly in WTC 7 – American Express – across Vesey St. from Tower 1) We were all standing in a group, watching in horror, amazement, disbelief. The scene was unrecognizable, yet, so familiar. I used to take the E to the Chambers Street WTC stop to the underground mall. I would buy soup from Hale & Hearty. I used to have lunch in the shadow of the twin towers. I think I said some of this, or all of it. My coworkers looking at me, asking questions. Everyone confused, talking, trying to get phone calls to connect. I finally got through to Adam – who told me to stay put. Stay put. We watched in amazed horror at people falling from the buildings to their death. Firefighters helping people out of buildings. Listened to people talking about their experience being up in the building, hearing the crash, trying to get down smoke-filled hallways, crowded stairways, repeated (over and over) footage of the second impact. And then…the first of the two towers fell. The footage was spectacular. Unbelievable. Otherworldly. Like something out of a science fiction movie. People running, screaming down the street with smoke and debris in clouds behind them. Then the plane crashing in Pennsylvania. Then, the second tower falling. I felt like I was in the midst of a war. It was terrifying.
I don’t remember much detail of the rest of my day. I was going through the motions. Telling students what happened. Watching their faces go from wonder to horror at the library’s computers. Everyone on their cell phones – trying to contact family members. I was so frightened, so confused, anticipatory. What would happen next? I drove home in a daze, listening to NPR, turned on the television the moment I stepped in the door. And I’m not sure that we turned off the television that evening. I kept CNN.com on constantly. I cried. One short week after 9-11, the anthrax attacks started. I know for certain that I didn’t feel safe for a good long time.
I have yet to visit ground zero. I’ve driven by the end of Manhattan when the beams of light were shining up at night. Adam has visited. I’m just not sure I want to be there. I didn’t lose anyone in the attacks; just my ability to ever re-experience things there the way they were. I have memories in my mind of how it felt to be there, before the attacks… it still feels that way in some part of my mind. I don’t know when I’ll want to change that.
As for our children and the attacks on 9-11. We’ve said that bad people did a terrible thing, hurting a lot of people, on that day, and that we remember them on the same day, each year. I’m not sure that I’ll never be able to convey the real confusion of that day; the fear I – and everyone – felt. The fear that I think we all still live with – to a certain extent – in this country. A fear that my children were born into; are growing up in. I want to tell them the story as I experienced it – someday. I imagine it will feel the way my mother’s stories of the death of JFK felt to me – distant. But I do remember, and I’ll want them to know my memories. I want them to know the love I have for my country, and how scared I felt when I wasn’t sure it was going to be here anymore. I want to tell them how important peace is. And how an event like this reminds us not to take peace for granted. Someday we’ll share our memories. For now, I remember.
I wish peace to those families far less fortunate than I who lost loved ones in the attacks. Peace to eveyone in this country that I love. Peace to all people in all countries. Peace to the world – this one world we all share.
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.