September 11, 2001

The World Trade Center


For most of my life, I worked in the shadows of the World Trade Centers. In the early 60's, when they were being built, I can recall my father saying with pride (& some concern) that the new buildings would be taller than the Empire State Building. (The Empire State building impressed him greatly when he immigrated to the US/NY from Malta in 1926 at the age of 16 & his first job in the U.S. was as an elevator operator in the ESB).

I can recall shortly after the WTC went up how television reception improved from the transmitters being relocated to the top of the towers. For many years, I worked within a few blocks of the buildings at four different locations. 60 Hudson street, The World Financial Center, One Liberty Plaza and 100 Church Street. The WTC never ceased to impress me. The towers were the beacon by which I would navigate home from a long day off shore. On some days, they would become visible from over 25 miles out at sea. I could see them from my parents home when I grew up and more recently, from my bedroom window in Oceanside. And now they are gone. From the sea, how the shoreline of Manhattan has changed. The other buildings, barely noticed before, look so significant now.

I mourn the loss of the towers. Much like I mourn the loss of a person. In some respects, more. A life cut short, is a tragedy. But those buildings were lost in their prime. A prime that should have lasted many hundreds of years. It is sad and it is wrong.

And I mourn the loss of life as well.

On September 11th, I was in the concourse beneath the towers at 8:45 am. Exactly when the first building was hit. There was a shudder and then the evacuation. I was forced to evacuate toward the E train and emerged from underground across the street from the WTC. What I saw haunts me still today. It was, at that time, the single most devastating thing I had ever seen (little did I know what was in store). A gaping hole, so very high up in the air. Smoke, flames, a police helicopter, and people on the roof and hanging out of the windows. It assaulted all of my senses at once. The smell, all those sirens, the sight... It was so huge. So wrong. It was almost surreal. Unacceptable to my brain. Then, the people began to jump. I could not understand why. There were firemen pouring in by the dozens. Why not wait for rescue. No one could survive that fall. Why jump? Then more and more jumped. I saw nine in all. Each one permanently burned into my memory. I can tell you what each one was wearing and their attitude as they fell. Then, Tower 2 was hit. The sound was deafening. I was standing directly in line with the blast that came out of the building. A person to my side went down with the hit. I don't know from what. Debris came down and I ran. Not far, maybe 10 feet when I realized how hot I was. I was concerned that I was on fire. I checked myself. Then checked again. It was the heat from the blast. I turned and look and saw the other tower looking not unlike the first. I was overwhelmed and began to walk. My brain could not take any more. At first aimlessly, then northward. I wanted a phone to let my loved ones know I was not hurt. I found one in a deli and during my call, I heard and saw the tower collapse. It sounded like a deck of cards being shuffled as each story of the building gave way independently in rapid succession. I began to cry. Immediately, I thought of all those firemen and policemen running into the building how they must have died. I walked further northward and lost sight of the remaining building. I wanted to see it. I needed to see that the people were rescued, the fire was out and the worse had past. Exactly as I rounded a corner to look, within seconds, it collapsed. As if it waited for me. I think I asked God "why?" Defiantly, one girder remained for a short while then toppled over. I had heard about the Pentagon and the plane in Pennsylvania. I went numb and remained that way for months.
With deepest sympathy for all those lost & their families. For all those who suffered and still suffer, and for the hurt to the greatest city in the world, I offer my prayers, my condolences and my respect.


---update---

It is September 11, 2002 & I have just returned from one of the many memorial services being conducted in the NY area. The last time I was in church was September 11, 2001. Although I was once a very religious catholic, various events and time has changed that. So here I am again 1 year later. Only the last time I was looking for answers. I felt empty when I left. This time, no questions, I just prayed for all those who died as innocent victims, all those who died trying to save others, all those who suffered and are still suffering with physical and emotional wounds. And all the families who grieves over their loved ones lost in the attack. It was a real effort not to pray for revenge. Today is not the day for that. I wonder about the people who stood beside me that day, about 100 feet from the base of the north tower, how they are doing. If they survived. If the guy to my side I saw go down when the second plane hit, if he survived or died there before me. I wonder if any of the families who lost someone knows that the person they lost was one of those who jumped. I wonder if those who jumped found their peace. I wonder about a construction worker from a nearby site who I saw left his job on a backhoe went racing down Church street to see if he and his equipment could be of service. I wonder if he is alive as he intentionally put himself in harms way. I wonder if I'll ever forget what it sounds like when a 767 hits a building. Or if I'll ever forget the intense heat from the blast on the back of my neck. Or if I'll forget what it sounds like to hear a building of that size collapse. Or what it smelled like that day. Or the sound of the hundreds and hundreds of sirens whaling and crying at the same time. What it's like not to run because you think you can't run far enough. Or the pain I saw in the woman's face as she turned to me for help... I had none to give. I wonder why I survived.

---update---

September 11, 2003.
For the past 2 years, not a day goes by where I don't think of the trauma of that day. The sounds, the sights, the smells, the emotions. The fact that my life was nearly taken from me 4 times that day. The many many people I saw who jumped to their deaths and those that didn't but eventually died anyway. The constant flow of emergency workers pouring into harms way while thousands more were scrambling to escape. The horrible vision of first the enormous holes & fires in the buildings and then their collapse. It has changed my life. It has change me. It's odd how often while laughing nearly two years later how I can feel a sense of guilt. As if laughing should not be. Many times I feel the need to remember and or pay my respects… Or maybe not let it get buried too far as if that would make me sick. So I'll dig up some pictures and notes and, I don't know, maybe I'm looking for a healing, but it never comes.
So here we are on the 2nd anniversary of that horrible day. The media is making it's annual shift. The other night I was scanning channels and found on 21, a local PBS station, a show by the BBC that I was supposed to be part of. The morning before the shooting, before the crew was to meet me in Jersey City where I worked, where the smoldering site could be seen in the background, I said no. It aired for the third time the other night. I had never watched it before. After two minutes, I decided not watching it was good. I turned off the TV.
Last week I heard a comparison by a reporter who, while speaking with an Israeli citizen the reporter said "we lived with this once, you live with this every day". How dare he! How many busses would it take before the death toll reaches that of the towers. And the logistics. There is no way any normal person can make a comparison. Their hunger for a story has brought the people in the news industry to a new low.

So, two years later...
The animals who did this are still at large.
The memorial is still not settled.
Many bodies still not identified.
NYC still has a huge open wound (where once stood two of the most magnificent buildings in the world).
Many lives still upside down and in pain.
And God is still nowhere to be found.


Again, I will go to church today, as I have for the last 2 years on this date and this date alone. I will pray these words to any God who cares to listen.
Please Bless all those who innocent people who lost their lives 2 years ago in the worst terrorist disaster ever to hit the free world.
Please ease the suffering of the surviving friends & families.
May the tears shed by all those affected bring comfort and healing.
May those responsible be brought to a swift and just punishment.
May peace one day reign throughout the world.

-------------

I just got back from St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue in NY. I had been there several times in the past and had been moved by the awe. I thought it would be a good idea. I entered and a service was going on. I walked quietly towards the back and found a place to stand out of the way. As I listened to the Mass my mind began to wander. I thought what an architectural loss it would be should terrorists decide to strike this building. I watched people light candles and considered doing so myself. "Does God hear any better if you light a candle?" I wondered. Sometime afterwards I realized I remembered every prayer, every hymn, every word of the Mass. I found myself reciting with a few others. Then, I realized, I felt sterile. Oddly detached. Where was the emotion... I didn't feel alive.
After another 10 minutes it was time for communion. With the near silence except for the drone of the priest saying: "Body of Christ" over & over again, my mind wandered freely. I began to "see" the people jumping off the building building again. A black woman in a gray suit with black stockings and a white blouse, wearing some jewelry with her hair all done up came sailing down again. Again showing no fear. She was detached. Then I recalled before the second plane hit, a construction worker on a back-hoe came racing down Church street headed towards the WTC. The site of the disaster. I thought "there is a hero" and what presence of mind to realize in such a disaster that his skill and equipment could possible be of service. Maybe even save a life. I wondered if he survived. I wondered if he helped with anything before the buildings fell. I was no longer detached. I fought back the tears and left. More than anything else, I want to know that this man is alive. I wish I could speak with him.

---update---

Today is September 10, 2004. Tomorrow marks the 3 year anniversary of that awful day. Awful not only because of the trauma & loss of life, but because it was intentionally inflicted by a warped & horrible people.
Something miraculous happened last year. Around November I found that I could think about the events of 9/11 and not cry. I found I could hear other talk about it and not feel like I had to run. And I felt like I didn't have to dwell on the events of 9/11 every day. It was sudden but a new level of healing took place. My friend and fireman, Dom Devito who worked the cleanup for many many days for months on end had pretty much the same revelation at around the same time. Maybe there is something magical about the 26 month timeframe... Things are still not the same. I have this weight on light entering my life. A constant pressure that holds me from enjoying happiness the way I used to. I live with the memories-all those people who jumped. Thinking I was on fire from the heat. Wondering why I escaped. But they are shadows in my mind. Dark, but not overwhelming. Tolerable so that I can begin to live once again.
In January, my company moved us to the World Financial Center. Every day I ride the E train as I did that morning and exit at the station called WTC. My first time on the train the conductor referred to the stop as "World Trade Center, Ground Zero, Last stop." It hurt to hear that. Thankfully I have not heard that announcement since. Post 9/11 things are different from what was my trip downtown for so many years. The difference being there is no mall any longer. Gone are the stores & crowds that was once typical of this once great site. I walk from the E train along the pit that used to be the World Trade Center. I watch the tourists and wonder what they came to find. Am I missing something? Why are they taking pictures. It looks like any other construction site in any other big city. I walk along a temporary bridge constructed to replace the grand pedestrian bridge that once connected the WTC with the WFC to facilitate crossing the West Side Highway. This new bridge is a metal monstrosity. I watch the site & I see remnants of buildings. This week, construction crews worked on taking down a structure left from the north Tower. I thought how defiant that concrete and iron was. But not until today did it's removal trouble me. Seven WTC, the last building to fall is nearly completed now. It appears as though no expense was spared in making this building as strong as possible.
9/11 is a Saturday this year. In years past I wandered into a church and sought answers. This year I'll be fishing with friends. Sunday I'll search again for answers that aren't there & thank God 9/11 is on a Saturday and I will not have to ride the E train & walk past Ground Zero on 9/11.

---update---

September 11th, 2005, this year fell on a Sunday. I tried not to reflect on it. By the time the day ended, I had received several phone calls from friends who called to wish me well. To support me on this day… All of which went unanswered. And this is the first time I did not go to church on this anniversary. I tried this year not to think about it. I stayed away from the news, TV's and any related conversation. I spent the day with my mom. She brought it up once or twice, I pretty much ignored it. The following day I returned my phone calls and tried to write my update here. I failed. After all this time, I am so surprised at how painful this all is. And yet, I've suffered a fraction as much as so many others. Still, my life is different. I am different. I don't even know who or what I would have, could have been had this horrid event not happened. But I've learned how to survive and it is working. Basically this last year I've felt prejudice. Right or wrong, I hold a passionate hatred for all those throughout the world who hold hatred against Americans for nothing more than being a citizen of this country. And under the guise of religion no less. Hundreds of years ago this was understandable. And hundreds of years ago it was rocks and spears, now it makes no sense. You'd think that education and civilization would have brought us all past this type of thing. And as I ponder the logic of why their hatred is so out of place, I find myself full of a similar hatred… The difference being my weapon is maybe a lack of sympathy when some disaster may fall upon them. A lack of respect and maybe a jump to a conclusion about who may be right or wrong based upon their place of origin or religion all of which results in no deaths or pain, just some self satisfaction. Their response is to kill, hurt and destroy with all that today's technology has to offer. And maybe this is why this is the first year I did not attend any church services on this 9/11. Or maybe it is my getting tired for not having received any answers.

May God bless all those who have died and suffered in this act of barbaric hatred.

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Peace & Justice to All



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