Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11-7 years later


This has nothing to do with health. But after reading my husband and his sister's blogs, and watching the Foxnews videos on the memorials that went on today-I got to thinking and remembering and crying.

I have had very few traumatizing events in my life. I have never lost someone I really loved who was a part of my day to day life. My life, while not the easiest, has certainly not been overly difficult either.

September 11, 2001, however, was one day that will go down in my memory as a very traumatizing day. I lost no one I loved or even knew personally that day. And for that I am grateful. But the intense emotional stress it placed on my life was truly more then I expected or even understood at the time.

My story of Grace (as Lauralin appropriately put it):
I worked at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. It was approximately 5 blocks from the World Trade Centers. Every day I took the PATH train from Hoboken, NJ to the basement of the WTC.
Tuesday, 9/11/01 was a gloriously beautiful day. I remember being excited that fall was here and the temperatures were cool, which made for a good commute and a nice walk along Battery Park at lunch time.
As I stepped off the train at 9:47, I was amazed at the fact that not only was I the first one off of the train, but there was no one else in the whole station. Usually the place is crawling with people from other trains and you have to elbow (in typical NYC fashion) your way to the escalators. There was a strange smell and a light fog surrounding the station (and it was 4 stories down). Nobody paniced, but there was definitely fear in their eyes. There were 4 flights to go up. As I was walking through the halls to the door, I noticed there were shoes and other personal items strewn on the ground. There was a number of coffee cups that were spilling all over the floor. And the stores, which were usually starting to open for business were still closed and dark. I was still a ways from the doors when I heard someone yell 'Run! Evacuate Now!' I turned around and saw a wall of people running toward the door-and me. Needless to say, I got out fast.

I stepped out into the bright sunlight and my heart sank to my stomach. I smelled fire and felt ash falling down all around me. The pavement was so hot my Tevas were almost too hot to wear when I got to work. I saw papers with the WTC address on them, just floating all around. Some were burned in places. I saw a woman with the back of her shirt burned through running and screaming-a police officer was chasing her, trying to get her to calm down so he could help her. And people all around were pointing up to the WTC with their mouths agape. There was a plane sticking out of the tower near the top. There were flames shooting from it. I could see people in the windows around it.

I walked to work and heard all kinds of stories and possibilities from people as I walked. Most people at that time thought it was an amateur pilot who lost control of his small plane. The newscasters were just getting a hold of the story. A tourist had gotten the whole thing on video and it was being shown all over the major networks. I got to work and the TV guys had their big screens on and everyone in the office was standing around watching. They were watching the plane hit over and over and discussing wheter it was intentional or not. As we sat around watching the North (I think that was the first one) tower burn and wondering how it was going to be rebuilt, one of the guys screamed 'here comes another one'. And sure enough, seconds later, the entire building shook like we'de been hit by an earthquake. We saw it hit the 2nd tower and burst into flames.

At that point we all knew it was intentional and that America had been attacked.

(The building was evacuated shortly afterwards. In an email I just reread, I was complaing about my calves being sore. But I only had to walk 16 flights, my poor SILs had to walk down 62! Not that any of us were really feeling sorry for ourselves. We all made it out safely. Kelly and Lauralin were in Rockefeller Center, 5th and 59th I think. They were stuck in the Bronx for 3 days, but we were finally able to bring them back to NJ.)

As we were all milling around the front of the building, trying to decide if we should stay or go, I decided the best thing was to just go back home. No one expected the towers to fall. The architects had come on the TV and said that it was not possible. But the chaos was none the less going to be intense as they tried to clean it all up-and nothing I could do to help the injured-so I decided to head back to NJ. There were ferries that people took across the Hudson River every day to work instead of the Path, so I decided to walk to Battery Park and take one of those back across to NJ.

As I was walking, I saw busloads of tourists staring up at the towers. I saw little children watching the flames. And at one point, I looked up and saw things falling from the towers. It took me a while to realize they were people jumping out of the windows. How does a little child process that? How does anyone process that?

The boats were packed and they were not taking tickets. I was one of the last ones to squeeze onto a ferry (and one of the last ferries to leave the docks from what I understand-they needed them for rescue efforts and they closed all of the traffic in and out of the city for security purposes). Everyone was talking about it as we slowly floated back to NJ. We were watching the towers as they burned.

Suddenly, and my heart stops just remembering it, there was this sickening thud and a poof of smoke rose up from under one of the towers. As we watched from the Hudson River, the entire South WTC building collaspsed in on itself. One story at a time, from the bottom up, it collapsed into a huge heap of twisted steel. And the plumes of smoke billowed all around the buildings downtown. It was surreal. I could not believe it was real life.

On the train home, I was listening to the radio on my headphones and I heard the announcer scream 'The 2nd one is collapsing too!'. I told everyone around me and we were all just stunned into silence. Two huge buildings-and all they stood for, and thousands of people who were expecting a normal day at work-just like us. All was gone. All the people we had left standing staring up at them-they were being chased by debris and smoke. We were all pretty grateful to be in NJ at that time. But yet we knew the dangers of terrorism was still very present and real.

I was able to call my poor worried husband from someone's cell phone and he met me at the train station. We went to see my FIL who hugged me tighter then he's ever hugged me with big tears in his eyes (yes, I'm loved!). It was surreal.

We locked our doors for the first time that night. That feeling of security was gone. I was traumatized beyond anything I'd ever known. And my poor husband had NO idea what to do with his new, traumitized bride.

But, I have to tell you, as hard as that day was, it was the following months that were the hardest for me-and many of the people who worked downtown.

I still vividly remember my first trip back into the city. My boss asked me to come in on the following Tuesday. The NYSE had opened and America was going to rebuild and be stronger because of it-'Let Freedom Ring'. I was proud of America and glad to show those bastards that we were not going to lay down and take it!

But, taking the ferry across the Hudson was so hard! I had no idea. The smell was so incredibly strong. If I smell that strong stench of metal burning even now, it brings tears to my eyes instantly. There was a huge stream of smoke that we had to go through to get to the pier. We passed right by the Winter Garden, over which we could see the smoldering remains of the WTC. It smelled so awful and it stung your eyes when you were close to it. We docked and everyone was very solemn. We had to have badges to prove that we worked downtown or we would not be allowed to get off the ferry. As I walked up Wall Street, I felt as though I was in a different world-a different country. It had changed so much in one week-one day really.

There were soldiers with huge rifles in their arms posted at every corner. All of the streets were blocked off and only authorized vehicles were allowed in. There was debris all over the streets. There were posters of people all over the walls and polls. 'Have you Seen...?' Or 'Our Hero'. Some had pictures of just the person, others of their families. There were notes, poems, stories, of loved ones that were taken so suddenly and desperately missed.

The security at the NYSE was super tight. I was glad as it made me feel a little more safe. But yet, it also made me feel vulnerable. America wasn't supposed to be attacked! We were supposed to be safe from all of that! That only happened in other countries...

We were given face masks to wear, as even the inside of our building was covered in dust and wreaked.

Our cafeteria was opened to the workers at Ground Zero and we saw people going in and out all day with their fire fighting suits on, all covered in dust and looking utterly exhausted and so incredibly sad.

I heard a lot of stories of co-workers and their friends who lost loved ones. The newspapers were filled with sad stories, obits, etc. I never bought them, but I couldn't help but read them when they were next to, or in front of me. It drove Drew nuts-I'd come home so depressed I could hardly walk up the stairs. I'd dissolve in a puddle of tears and tell him a story I had read. 'Why do you read them then?' I didn't want to-but yet I felt I owed it to those who died somehow.

Choppers were constantly flying overhead. And if one would get to close, the entire office would get paniced looks on their faces. We were pretty on edge for awhile.

It was so incredibly strange to know that the bodies of some 3,000 people were lying only blocks from where I was. And here I was, going back to my day to day life.

I'd say it took about a month before the smell became tolerable. And about 3 months before we felt the office was mostly back to normal. Which really isn't bad all things considered!

For each of the sad stories I heard, there were at least 2 good ones. People whose work or doctors schedules changed (my MIL and SIL among them). People who had missed the bus or train and were frustrated-until they realized it saved their lives. Stories of people helping perfect strangers. Giving them rides (my SILs), letting them stay in their homes and eat their food. America really did prove herself in those days. NYC was truly united in a way that I had not, nor since, seen.

Drew and I went to a Yankees game (free tickets-go Mets!) a few weeks after 9/11. We sat in front of a group of firefighters from Texas who had come to help clear the rubble. There was a number of groups of peoples who were honored that night at the game for their selfless giving-and many from other states. It was pretty neat. And when the Star Spangled Banner played-there wasn't a dry eye in the arena! It really meant something. 'And the flag was still there'.

Every year it seems the anniversary has been a little easier. I took my sister and her family to Ground Zero in June. It's just a big worksite now. But I felt a lot of the insecurity and pain over again. I think that made this anniversary easier. I had already really grieved over it.

Today was a beautiful day-much like 7 years ago, sunny with a few clouds. I was walking outside and a plane flew over and it was rather loud. It's amazing how memories can flood back without any heeding. It's almost like they are pictures in an album and certain things trigger them into your conscience. Strong burning smells and low flying planes make me jumpy still.

Last year I was talking to my 1st grade SS class and read a few of their birthdays. Two of them were born on 9/11/01. I realized most of them didn't know the story-and the few who did really did not understand it.

I am not yet ready to burden my children with the realities of that day. But I do know that someday I will share with them my memories of that day. And I hope to help them understand that America did change that day. I hope that the lessons that were learned will not be forgotten in the next geneation. WWII was 50 years ago and yet, most of us have forgotten that freedom is not free. It came with a price, and will stay only with a price. Be it the lives of our brave police officers and firefighters, or the soliders who are out on the actual battlefields.

Every life is important to an all-knowing, all-loving God. But He also knows first hand the price of freedom. Rather then be angry about people dying, let's honor them and enjoy our freedom.

God is good. God is sovereign. We can choose to be a part of His plan and allow him to use us. Or not. I hope He continues to mold me into the person He wants me to be. The person who is best suited to glorify Him. I find suffering is what brings the most change (in my life anyway). I don't like to suffer-esp at the time. But every time I do, I can honestly look back later and see how much I've grown because of that difficult time.

Ok, it's way past my bedtime. But I thought I'd share 'my story of grace' before I laid down on my warm safe pillow to rest for the night.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing that -- I hope it was cathartic for you to write. I've added a link from my site to yours... I'm sure many will want to read it. :-)

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  2. AWESOME telling of your story of grace Sarah.....All of it...very real, very honest and sincere...the hurt is there but no melodrama......Thanks for sharing.

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