Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering Where We Were and What We Lost...

HALLIE EPHRON: Today is September 11, the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks. We all know exactly what we were doing when we heard the news.

I was in my bedroom when one of my sisters who lives in New York called, telling me to turn on the TV. Later, my daughter who was safe and sound at Barnard College up at 116th Street in Morningside Heights told me she could see the smoke from her dorm room.

When I started writing There Was an Old Woman, I planned a subplot about a 9/11 survivor -- a man who goes to work that morning in one of the towers, intending to shoot one of his co-workers, and ends up rescuing him. But if you read the book, and I hope you will, you won't find a trace of that story.

As part of my research I visited New York and walked around the pit. I visited the temporary museum (the memorial hadn't been finished yet) and talked with one of the guides and other visitors. I had lunch with a curator from the New York Historical Society who talked to me about how they were collecting objects -- like the venetian blinds that were blown out of one of the tower�s windows and got caught in a tree behind St. Paul's, personal effects that were sifted from the debris at Fresh Kills, twisted pieces of structural steel that were magnificent in a grim way and so big that they had to be stored at JFK airport in a hangar.

I came home overwhelmed with sadness, determined to scrap my novel -- or at least the part that dealt with 9/11. To write about it felt like touching a live wire. I couldn't possibly have done it justice, and the story I had in mind seemed more than ever to trivialize the tragedy.

Today I think about the people we lost that day, and so many more who kissed loved ones good-bye that morning and never saw them again.

Where are your thoughts today?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Oh boy. This day is always hard. And always will be for me. I was supposed to work out with a fireman pal and he called to say that a plane had crashed downtown (At that time, he had no idea of the scope, he'd just gotten a call from friends at the station.) Then I put the television on and saw the worst.

Bruce had had a breakfast meeting downtown, saw firsthand and took photos, but I can't stand to look at them. He walked home as did thousands of others, with ashes covering his shoes and dusting the cuffs of his pants. My apartment in the city is right near the 59th St Bridge and all day people were walking over the bridge to get back to Queens (no public transportation was running.)No traffic on the FDR Drive and no planes overhead. No hospitals were taking donated blood. Empty wheelchairs lined up outside.

My fireman friend survived, after weeks down at the Trade Center, but he was never really the same. Many of his colleagues at Brooklyn's elite Squad 1 lost their lives.

Recently I had the somber but necessary task of going through the possessions of an elderly relative who had passed away. Not quite a hoarder, Aunt Mary did hold on to stuff for a long time - including this Reader's Digest article about The Greatest Skyscraper of them All. It's dated July 1969, and it's about WTC, then under construction. "Radical in concept, daring in design, it is a dazzling engineering achievement." The details are fascinating - how much, how many, how they kept the Hudson River out while they were digging. So optimistic.

RHYS BOWEN: My son was at drama school in New York City on that day. He called us at 6:10 CA time and said "Do you have the TV on?" We said we were asleep. He said "Turn it on now" and we were in time to watch the second plane crash into the tower. I don't think I've ever seen anything more frightening or ever felt more powerless to do something to help.

But obviously we were not touched the way Rosemary would have been. When I was a teen I used to go up to London to drama school. I narrowly missed getting on a train that was involved in a horrible crash and had to walk home 14 miles in dense fog. I suffered from delayed shock after that and that sense of "why wasn't I on that train?"

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I flew to England on September 10th, arriving at Gatwick early on the morning of the 11th, UK time (5 hours ahead of New York.) I rented a car and drove to Rye, in Sussex, where I had lunch, checked into a B&B and took a long nap. When I woke up, I went out to find some dinner, without turning on the TV, looking at a newspaper, or talking to anyone. It was the waitress at the little cafe who asked if I'd heard the news. I ran back to the hotel and turned on the TV in my room, watching the footage of the planes crashing, over and over.

I couldn't make an international call. No internet. I couldn't talk to my husband, or my daughter, who was away from home for the first time at college. I didn't know if anyone I knew in New York was okay. Or when--or if--I would be able to get home. It was a week before I could communicate with anyone in the States. I've never felt so isolated.

But there was, in England, such a shared sense of grief and shock, and that helped.

JAN BROGAN: My mother was very ill, and I was supposed to drive down to New Jersey that day to help her with housework and care for her.  My brother who also lives in New Jersey, called me that morning and said DO NOT DRIVE TO NEW JERSEY today because of possible terrorist attack of the bridges. I asked what the hell he was talking about and he told me to turn on the TV.  My husband and I tuned in in-time to see the second plane hit the tower.

I did drive to New Jersey the next day. My mother's house was twelve miles from New York with a view of the Empire State Building from the living room and front bedroom windows. I spent the next week taking care of my  mom and watching New York City burn.   Many of the parents at my nieces and nephew's private school worked downtown.  Every day, there was another horrific story of parents who had died, leaving young children.

My mother died a couple of months later, so my private mourning became entwined with the national mourning. 

LUCY BURDETTE: What a horrible horrible moment...and all that loss...and all the reverberations into so many lives...

I was playing golf and we found out when we finished on the 18th hole. I could only think of my brother who frequently worked in the Pentagon. A couple of hours later we found out he was safe.

John and I were in New York a month or so later. I will not forget seeing a closed cafe several blocks from the site--empty, filled with ashes and dust, the plates and silverware left exactly as they had been that morning.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The most mundane...I was having a haircut. I got a call from the TV station, it had just happened, come to work, NOW. I walked the three blocks to Channel 7, on that gorgeous day, saw people in bars watching the coverage on the TVs through the opened storefronts.

I profoundly remember thinking--the moment I step into the TV station, my life will never be the same. I remember the news director came into my office, saying--you HAVE to find out why this happened! Sigh. And we wound up dong a big story on carry-on weapons--interviewing a flight attendant who explained to us that boxcutters were legal to carry on. As a result of being hard at work, I never saw the worst live video. And I've never watched it.

We then were assigned shifts, twelve hours on, twelve hours off. I had noon to midnight, for maybe--three weeks. I remember we were supposed to have a dinner party soon after, which I considered calling off. Then we decided---no. This is the time to cherish friend

HALLIE: Share your thoughts and memories on this sad anniversary.


  1. I worked at a company that provided a live news feed in the lunchroom. I walked by the monitor to a meeting and someone said a small plane had crashed into a building in New York. I walked back in time to see the second plane crash. The entire company drifted into the cafeteria and we sat there the rest of the day. When I drove home to my beautiful yard on that beautiful afternoon I sat outside and wept.

    My younger son and I flew to San Francisco in early December that year, with seats at the back of the plane. I leaned out into the aisle, looked the length of the plane, and thought, "What those poor people went through..."


  2. I was working at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama . . . the events of that Tuesday are etched in my memory. At first, no one knew exactly what was happening; when it became clear, it was the military community of support holding us together as everyone struggled to respond to the unthinkable . . . . Base security on Wednesday was HUGE and it took almost two hours to get through the gates to get to my office. It would remain so for months afterward.

    But Wednesday evening was for Church . . . . and the comfort of God and the community of faith was almost palpable. We lived in a military town: most worked at the base in nearby Montgomery or were retired from the military so there was that added dimension as everyone struggled through shock, tears, and the myriad of emotions that played out over those first days. This past Sunday, as I have done every year since that day, I put flowers on the Church altar in memory the fireman whose name is engraved on the bracelet I always wear and said a prayer for those who perished in the attacks.

    Today I will watch . . . and, knowing myself, quite probably cry through . . . the television coverage of the memorial ceremony, listening for “my” fireman’s name to be read . . . . This tragedy is defined in how it has affected the family of humanity and we are all deluged by the catastrophe and the heartbreak of its aftermath.

  3. Like many, I was watching the news when they broke in with the news of a plane crash. We never turned the tv off for days. I was planning on renewing my driver's license that day but state offices were closed and I wouldn't have left the tv in any case.

    I have never felt such emotion as during that period of time.

    We lost two friends on Flight 93. It was devastating to learn that they were on the plane.

    I had a moment of panic that evening. All flights were grounded and all of a sudden I heard a plane overhead. We live 50 miles from Canada so I figured it was some sort of border patrol. Never did find out what it was.

    It's still hard to think of it all.

  4. I was at work, and my boss - my uncle - had a twisted, deadpan sense of humor. When he said to me, "Did you hear about the plane that flew into the World Trade Center?" I thought he was setting up a joke. When he said it was true, I turned on the radio. The florist who shared our building had a tv in the back room, so we all crowded around it and wondered how it happened. We watched as the second plan hit, and knew it wasn't an accident.

    I remember feeling afraid for a long time after that, even though I live in Wisconsin, far from any targets. I kept a journal and it's strange to read my thought now, when I know what's happened since then.

    By the way, my "prove you're not a robot" words include "USA" - in caps.

  5. Thanks, Edith and Joan and Marianne and Sandi. We had the TV on for days after, too. And put any trips out of the country on hold for years - I couldn't bear the thought that I'd be away from my family if....

  6. One more memory. My poor stepfather, who was increasingly experiencing Alzheimers symptoms, thought it was a new and different attack every time they replayed the footage. He was so distraught my mother had to unplug the television.

  7. I remember driving through town later that day on some errand that couldn't be put off, and seeing people go in and out of their houses, seeing the postal carrier delivering letters, seeing other people. And I thought "They're all feeling the same thing I am." It was a powerful moment of community, belonging, and purpose.

    I realized that's what the country must have felt during WWII: a sense of national pride and purpose. It was an astonishing sensation to feel, but it buoyed me up a small bit.

  8. Like April 19, 9-11 is a day etched in sharp clarity in my memory. Scents, sights, sounds--they all wash over me in a flood of emotion.

    I worked the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City (April 19, 1995) and met many of the guys from New York Task Force Once (FEMA SAR team) in the aftermath. On 9-11-01, I was driving to Midwest City Police Department (on the east side of the Oklahoma City metroplex) where I worked as a crime analyst and technical investigator. I heard about the first plane from a radio news report in my car. Once up in the detective bay where my cubicle was, I switched on the TV, which happened to be right above me. No one on duty had heard the news. Before the morning was over, we'd all gathered in the bull pen to watch in horror. When the towers came down, I knew I'd lost friends.

    MWCPD works in close conjunction with officials at Tinker Air Force Base. We could hear the AWACS taking off, along with support aircraft (fighters and bombers). When the Pentagon was hit, I called my husband. Our best man (and his closet friend from college) was assigned to the Pentagon. He was out of the building that day, thankfully.

    This is a day I wish I could stay huddled under covers but I refuse to let PTSD cripple me. Instead, I will celebrate the freedoms this country is founded upon and the sacrifices so many have made to preserve them.

    So much death and destruction. Such a waste, all in the name of...what?

  9. I was thinking the same thing... Tammy ... how for a while we were all so connected to one another. if there was a positive side, that was it.

  10. I was home when my friend came in and said a plane has hit the World Trade Center. We turned on the TV and watched it dissolve behind the talking heads. We could see the smoke rising from our windows. For some reason, I went to a meeting in town and a TV was on in the background, I watched the second tower go down. I went home and they let the kids out of school early. Many didn't know where their parents were. Not a cloud in the sky, and no planes either. Not for days. You forgot what that was like, the constant sound of planes overhead. Now it was replaced occasionally by fighter jets. Driving into the city, they would hold you back until the last minute, then the bus drivers and other drivers would race through the tunnel as if something was snapping at their heels. For me, it did change everything.

  11. Beautifully said, Silver James.

    In the paper today, there is a story about how the mourners are so relieved that this 11th anniversary is quieter - because the tenth anniversary hoopla made their memories inescapable - and they wanted their private mourning preserved.

    And I agree Hallie, that was the one positive side. It would be so nice if we could all get connected together, but over a POSITIVE event.

    (Hah, like that's going to happen in an election year!)

  12. What I remember is how people grativated toward communal grief.

    I was living on Peaks Island at the time, which is a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown Portland (Maine). After struggling to focus at work (it felt truly disrespectful) I walked to the ferry dock a couple of hours before the end of the workday and found many of my neighbors had the same instinct.

    The 3:15 and 4:30 ferries were far more crowded than usual. Everyone was talking in a muted way about what they knew, and what they feared.

    That evening there was a spontaneous open house at a restaurant, for those who needed to be with others. It was holy, that need to be together, to embrace friends and weep.

  13. Like Deb, I'd been flying the night before, from my home in NW MT to Billings, several hundred miles away. I was staying in my mother's house, but she was away, and didn't turn on the morning news before getting in my rental car to go take some depositions. I turned on NPR, and heard the news, and just sat in the car, stunned. Nearly everyone involved in the deps had a relative in NY, plans to fly there shortly, or some other connection. Here we were, all the way out in MT, and we were all connected. The entire day was surreal, as we tried to go about the ordinary business of our judicial system, and I felt that was critical--that we keep on, that we show how well our system works, even when under direct attack. But the air felt strange, partly because of the silence, and partly, I think, because of all the thoughts and prayers filling it.

    I flew home that Saturday, on the first flights back in the air, and there was still that amazing sense of connection. Sober, somber, and determined that we as a people, as a country, would not be destroyed.

    For several years before that, I had been a little afraid of flying, because of a scary jet wash incident. I have never been afraid since.

  14. I was working for the Red Cross in Ohio. I arrived at work just after the first plane hit. We were in a meeting room organizing response activities and watching the tv when the first tower went down.

    Not long after, I flew to NYC to work at one of the respite centers the Red Cross had set up inside ground zero to serve the men and women working the "pile".

  15. I was at a small engineering firm, doing a security audit for their computer systems. One of the guys and I had become friends and bumped into each other in the hallway. "Did you hear about the plane that crashed into the Twin Towers?" he asked.

    Knowing him, I stood there waiting for the punchline. When I realized he was serious, I hit the news feeds like a maniac.

    A few minutes later, some of us had trooped downstairs to the small cafe in the building for bagels and coffee. A small black and white TV was on the counter, and as we stood there, the second plane hit.

    I remember quite clearly thinking, "We're in trouble." I was told later I did say that aloud without meaning to.

  16. I was sound asleep, 6 a.m.-ish, when my boyfriend nudged me awake. I remember how startled I was. He never dared wake me up, especially that early. So I knew it must be bad when he said I had to watch what was on television.

    I remember how blue the sky was over Manhatten -- looked like a beautiful day -- and the trickle of smoke filtering from the first tower. It took me a minute to fathom the gravity of the situation. We were riveted to the t.v. all morning.

  17. Naomi's post reminded me of the silence in the air in the days following and how welcome the sound of planes (we're on the flight path to Logan) later became.

  18. I am a Canadian, and remember watching the To-day showwhen coverage of the attack took presedence. At first I thought it to be an accident. When it became clear that it was a deplorable attack, I remember feeling so anxious fotr all Americas. Outrage, and disgust for a horrible attack on our allies. The anguish of the American people so hard to watch. The bravery of the fire men, the survivors helping each other, the solidarity of ordinary people coping with the aftermath of this criminal happening....

  19. I will share a memory from a little after 9/11. My brother and I had vacationed in NYC many times and we both loved the city so much. After 9/11, tourism dropped, so we decided to take a short trip there to show our support.
    One night we came out of a restaurant and were talking about catching a cab, but my brother wanted to smoke a cigarette first. As we talked, anyone overhearing us would have known we were visitors.
    Suddenly a woman, who appeared to be homeless, rushed over to us and said, "You need a cab? I'll get you a cab!" and she ran into the street, gesturing wildly for a cab to stop. A cab pulled over and the woman opened the door for us. I reaching into my pocket, assuming that she'd expect some cash for her efforts. But she just waved me off and pushed my brother and me into the cab, shouting "God bless you! Thank you for coming to New York!"

  20. Wow, what an amazing story (the taxicab and the odd woman). I'm always amazed at how helpful new yorkers are in general - they get a bad rap but every time I go and pause somewhere to get my bearings, darned if someone doesn't pipe up and ask if I need help finding my way.

    But after 9/11 it was particularly so. And boy were there bargains - I remember staying at the Hilton in the 50s for just over $100 a night.

  21. I go to New York quite frequently and noticed a huge change after 9/11. Before nobody made eye contact. People were rude. Afterward strangers spoke to each other at bus stops and on the subway. and it hasn't gone away either, this sense of shared experience and feeling that we have to take care of each other. So some good did come of it.

  22. My daughter's birthday was this weekend, and since her husband of nine months is deployed, I traveled to Miami to spend a few days with her, and accidentally ended up flying home today. So I've been thinking about this all day, too, from a slightly different perspective.

    In the US we had not experienced the tight security some other countries have, with armed guards walking around airports with their fingers on the triggers of automatic weapons. But I saw that today at MIA, and there was very heavy security, with tons of cop cars around the perimeter of the Miami airport. Travel was light, though, and it was actually more pleasant than usual.

    On 9/11, I was home sick. My husband heard about the first plane on his office radio and he called me to turn on the TV, so I, too, was watching when the second plane hit. And then continued to watch, stunned, all day long, as they replayed the towers getting hit, and then falling, over and over and over again.

    I finally had to turn it off it was so wrenching and so shocking, and I remember seeing that slow motion fall for weeks in my dreams, and feeling so horrified for the people in the towers who were terrified enough to jump out of those buildings.

    Silver, I was in Oklahoma City on the first anniversary of the Murrah Building bombing. The city was still shell-shocked; people walked around like zombies, speaking in hushed tones, and the buildings were still boarded up and had police barriers around them. I'll never forget the hollow eyes of the cop I talked to. I later heard he was the guy who carried the child out of the building, the one whose photo was seen everywhere, and that he later committed suicide.

    Such senseless violence. All to try to force others to one point of view. It never works; in fact it has the opposite effect, and still they try.

  23. The tv was on, but my Lucas had just turned 3, and there were no news bulletins on PBS. We were watching Barney, I think, because I was actually cleaning the kitchen. My mom called to tell me, and I remember being irritated because I was hoping Lucas would go back to sleep when the show was over, and he wouldn't sleep if I was on the phone.

    I was flabbergasted...Mom said a plane lost control and hit one of the Twin Towers in New York; I turned the TV on in time to watch the second tower get hit, and we knew then, that this was not some tragic accident.

  24. I was living in Australia at the time. Oblivious to what was going on, I called my mom just after the first plane hit. It was evening in Australia. My mom told me a plane had just crashed into the WTC. But at that time, no one really knew what was going on. I didn't realize it was a commercial airliner. I thought it was a small private plane. We spoke for a few minutes, and hung up before the 2nd plane hit. I tried to get online, but internet was down or overloaded. So I went to bed. We didn't have a tv.

    The next morning my Aussie MIL woke us up calling, asking if we's heard what happened in the U.S. Of course I really had no clue, so she filled me in. She was very upset, and I soon was, too. I remember crying and saying, "What are they doing to my country?" At that time, we thought they were going to try and hit the white house as well.

    I got off the phone and made my way over to our neighbors' (another Aussie/American couple) and spent a few hours watching their tv, feeling so isolated from my fellow Americans.

    I had planned to fly back to the States in late September, but after 9/11, decided to put it off until late October. Flying that first post-9/11 flight was an eye opener.

    But my attitude was that I wasn't going to live my life in fear, because if we started doing that, then the terrorists would win.

  25. This is what I wrote that day just hours after watching the buildings fall.

    Tod’s Point – Greenwich CT-. Sept 11, 2001

    When you are jogging in this 147-acre park there is a spot you pass at the half way mark when you come around a bend and on a clear day – like today – you can see the whole gleaming skyline of Manhattan.

    Except this morning there was something that seemed wrong.

    There were two smokestacks on the horizon in a place there never had been smokes stacks before. And it took a minute – a long minute - to figure out that the smoke was billowing out from the World Trade Towers.

    About twenty yards up ahead a few people had congregated and I stopped to ask what had happened.

    Their news was swift and delivered in short sentences.

    At that point in time both Towers were still standing. And so we stood. All strangers gathered on an outcropping of rock, watching a scene that did not make sense.

    And then a woman ran up and began to climb those rocks. She was crying and her movements were frantic. She could not get close enough to their edge – to the water. She was in tears. A few steps behind her another woman followed who tried to keep the first from climbing down the rocks to the water.

    "But he’s in that building," the crying woman said as she fought off her friend.

    The crowd grew as the minutes passed. And some of us stood back to let the war widows past – you could tell who they were - the women and men who came - some alone, others with friends – who had loved ones in those two towers.

    Ashamed to watch their grief, to see their trembling hands and smell their fear, I kept my eyes on the sky.

    "It’s collapsing," a man shrieked. And the wailing started.

    In this suburb that sits on the outskirts of NY we watched the Twin Towers fall. But we didn’t hear the sirens or the explosions. We only heard the gulls screaming and the widows weeping.

    Postscript - Five days later:

    Every morning this week I have gotten in my car to go walking. I say I am not going back to Tod’s Point - that I am going to the park where I cannot see the skyline - but I do go back. I have to go back and look again at the NY skyline.

    The gaping hole is now as much as presence as the two towers once were and the phrase "a negative space" has never had as much meaning for me.

    Just as I have to keep sending money to the Red Cross and I have to keep crying, I have to keep looking at that negative space.

    And so I will go back every day to stand, look and for a moment honor all those people. The ones who are missing, the ones who worked the rescue, and the ones still living who will lose their lives some other day over what has been wrought.