The events of 9/11, 2001 are as vivid to me three years later as they were the day the World Trade Center Towers fell. Each scene plays over and over in my mind, squeezing my heart, and wrenching my soul. The planes, the inferno, people trapped, attempting to escape the Towers above and below the space where the planes entered. Some choosing to jump from windows, others to yell for help, awaiting rescue. The loud implosion as the Towers collapsed, shattered debris hitting anything in its path, office supplies turned into paper strips, and recording tape hanging haphazardly from the branches of the small trees on the roof garden. Books, office equipment, computer monitors flying through the air, loosed as in an angry tantrum. Some breaking windows, leaving carnage in nearby living quarters, specifically in Gateway Plaza apartments, where I returned later to assess the damage - yet it was a low priority, since the reality of what happened and the suffering of those in the Towers dominated the senses.
I recall the first plane entering a high section of the first Tower. Not long after, the second plane pushes its way into a lower entry point of the next Tower, with more floors above its intrusion. The second plane's trajectory is such that the observer expects it will pass completely through. But, no ... the front half of the plane settles downward in a slanted position. Ash, so much ash ... the air thickened, and the skies impermeable, blacker than night with city lights shut down, and darker than an eclipse, in Lower West Side Manhattan, Battery Park City. The nightmare of loved ones lost, heroes from the private and public sector, volunteers from all over the country, coming together with a common goal -- to save as many lives as they could. Tired medical, police, and fire personnel working to the nth degree. Faces that stare in disbelief, barely able to take a step away from what happened, frozen in place. Mesmerized with feelings of helplessness - where to turn, what to do?
Soot sifting into any entryway it can find, covering passers-by, shock endemic stretched out for hours and more. The complexes of the World Financial Center building with windows blown out, the American Express building standing jagged-edged in the aftermath. The Winter Garden destruction. The collapse of the North Bridge connecting the Winter Garden building to the World Trade Center Tower - dangling in the air before parts of it fall to the street. On the confluence of the East River and Hudson River, Lady Liberty stands silent, watching over the destruction and carnage. The air clears. There's a stillness, a hush, then another implosion as the second Tower folds to earth like an accordion closing. Public service personnel are exhausted, not wanting to leave the site, hoping that the tragedy is just a mirage that will go away. Feet of ash and soot cover the streets, buildings, and smashed vehicles. All those people gone now within hours that seemed only like minutes.
So many with loved ones who had been in and around the Towers complex - in hotels or stores; on subways travelling in the bowels of the Towers to destinations in Manhattan or other boroughs; tourists out early to take in City attractions. Those at home weeping, hearts pounding, awaiting word ... 'Did they make it to safety?' This wonder and shock goes on for days, weeks, months on end. Thousands of stories, and I was close by, living 300 short yards from the majestic Towers, facing them day and night. Months later, I take in memorial items against the railed fences of a main entry to the Esplanade along the Hudson River. There are pictures of loved one (American Airlines personnel, and Tower victims, NY Police, and NY Fire Department personnel, and volunteers countrywide), teddy bears and stuffed toys, letters and poems of condolence from adults and children near and far.
So many opposites - courage and carnage, hatred and hope, devastation and rebuilding, the worst and the best of humanity compressed into moments scorched into our memories forever. All of them are still vivid in my mind, but the ones I want to remember and replay are those in the majority - countless scenes of love and support in the aftermath of 9/11. All the world was 'calling, calling' ... and caring, caring.Note: The author retains all rights to this article, including photographs.
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