Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Remebrance

 A piece I wrote last year about 9/11. Peace to all families today.

A Beautiful Morning Turned Gray:
                A Remembrance of September 11th
    It is interesting what we all remember about one moment; the sounds, the smells, the images. In one moment, the world we live in can change dramatically. What I find fascinating is how the several people I interviewed about September 11, 2011, began to recount their story.
    “The morning of 9/11 was absolutely beautiful,” New Yorker Liz Vorbach (my aunt) recalls. “I took off to drop Annie and Sarah (her children) at Riverside. I was shocked to see that a neighbor kid had been involved in a minor accident while walking to school. I pulled over and made sure his mom was told and an ambulance was coming.” This grave foreshadowing on a small scale was about to shake up all of New York, the United States, and the world.
    Vorbach lives in Rockville Centre, a town in Long Island that many people commute from to work in New York City. For a child to be hit by a car is unusual in this community. Vorbach was shaken by this incident, and “He was ok but shaken up. I, too was shaken up by this, and proceeded on to the gym. When I entered the lobby of the gym I was surprised to see people congregated about the TV. My first thought was, wow did Kevin's accident make it onto the news already? Before that moment, the worst thing my mind could encompass was a child being hit by a car in the morning, with no parent around. Needless to say, that day changed forever my imagining of how bad things could be.”
    Sherry Lundquist, a New York transplant now living in Boston, has a similar story. She says, “It was a beautiful Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001. The sky was brilliant blue and the sun was shining.” Lundquist planned to have her hair cut for her new job she was beginning in a few days. Three of her kids were in school, and one was at basic training for the national guard in Ft. Benning, Georgia. On her way to the salon she stopped at Dunkin Donuts to sip on an iced coffee as she had her hair done. It was here that news of the first plane hit. Lundquist says, “Apparently a small plane had hit the World Trade Center in NY. They kept showing the plane hitting the building. Crazy, I thought. No one else seemed to be paying attention to it.  I got my coffee and went to the hair salon.  I said to the stylist ‘I just heard a plane hit the World Trade Center in NY.  It’s crazy.’”
    What I find interesting is how ordinary people were on this morning. We had no idea that anything was wrong. We were living in our American bubble, the invincible, the safe, the one where the worst thing that could happen is a child injured in an accident. I was young. I do not remember the sky or what type of morning it was. I do remember that it was nothing unusual, my privileged American life was of the ordinary to me. I knew nothing else. I do remember sitting at my desk in eighth grade when my teacher stepped out of the room to talk to the other teachers about something. We thought it was great because we had a break from social studies.

 It seems that everything is ordinary and life is passing you by and it takes an attack on our country to wake us up. To shake us out of our routine, to remind us that everything is sacred and we are just as vulnerable to violence and killing as other countries.

    When our teacher walked back into the room, he told us a mini version of the first plane hitting the World Trade Towers. I was terrified. My family lived in New York. They worked in the city. My brother was in the army. My father flies to New York every week for work. The school brought us all to the auditorium to watch the news. We all gathered around the television. We watched the replay of the first plane hit the building. I was distraught. About 20 minutes later, the second plane hit the other tower. This is when they sat us down and told us this was a huge deal. Apparently the planes left from Boston (where I lived). I was about to have a panic attack (I had these occasionally). Was my father on that plane? Oh my God, Did I just lose my father? Where is my brother? My aunts and uncles?
    My father (a journalist and VP of a company) was miraculously not on that flight. As I was panicking, he was watching the news on the television, too. He remembers, “I was driving to work when I heard the first report about a crash into one of the towers. Initial reports said they thought it was a small plane. When I got to work (remember this was before Twitter, Facebook, et al), we went into a conference room to watch the events unfold on CNN.” His home office was in NYC; he called down there to see if  everything was okay. “I also started getting calls from our reporters and editors who were traveling. About two hours after the fall of both towers I called the staff into the conference room and told them to go home and be with their families instead of being at work. At that point we started figuring out how we would cover the disaster from our perspective. We sent one reporter to NYC to start reporting.”
    No one knew what to do when the truth about the plane crash surfaced. When we found out we were under attack, my middle school sent the kids home. A bus dropped me off at my house. I sprinted down the hill and into my house to find my mother sobbing on the couch. She looked at me with pure love. I was a wreck. “Is Dad ok?!” I yelled, about to join in her uncontrollable sobs. “Yes yes yes, everyone is fine. Mark and Liz are fine, your father is fine, and we are all safe.” Her hair looked funny. I asked her why; she ran out of the salon when she found out the truth about the attack with her hair unfinished. “But this is horrible, this is so horrible. Kate, this is going to be a war.”
    Well, that floored me. A war? Like I read about in my history book with tanks and fighter jets? With another army in the United States? I could not picture this. She held me in her arms and we watched the news together on our couch, safe in our home. We waited for my father and two brothers to return home. My other brother was in the army. We were terrified. Our ordinary existence suddenly became something else entirely. We could not get in touch with him because he was obviously called up for duty. I remember wondering how many people were affected by this terrorist attack (the news finally let us know what happened).
    A few people in our community were on the plane that hit the tower. I did not know them.  Vorbach recalls, “My community was devastated by the attacks. We lost 38 people, most of them parents. There are memorials all over town. Mark had coached soccer with a few of them. In fact, one of them, Jim Geyer, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. I remember that name always coming up on the caller Id when he would call to arrange the soccer schedule.” The news that most of the people in the towers were parents, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, is absolutely horrifying. How could something like this happen?
    I wondered then, as I do now, how this changed our world. I asked my father, my mother, and my aunt this question as I try to grasp the severity of this attack. I remember life before it, and I know life after it. But the younger generation does not know. They only know life after the terrorists attacked our country.
    My father says, “The world changed in so many ways. The idea of the U.S. as an island that was untouched by terror was shattered. The issues surrounding balancing security versus privacy and safety continue to unfold.” My aunt recalls how fun it was for her to work in the World Trade Towers. My mother’s memory was of the American reaction and unjustifiable prosecution of any muslim American. I felt fear for my family, and for all the families who lost someone. I was so lucky. Our country changed, our world changed, and we as individuals have changed since that beautiful morning turned gray. My father continues, “The bitter fruits of hate filled cultures prove the need to establish peace and justice as the founding principles of foreign policy. The need to encourage a new generation of world leaders requires as much investment and energy as was the building of armies and massive defense industries.”
    How has this event changed the individual? My aunt says, “I can't presume to say I had any big thoughts at that time or now. I just have a sad, sad spot on my soul that was never there before, and that will never go away.” Ultimately, I feel this is true for most of us, whether we recognize it or not. We are all affected by the terrorists killing our brothers and sisters, neighbors, and children. We are all connected by the common thread of unification as Americans. We cannot forget what happened, and we need to teach the younger generation who does not remember the morning of September 11th the importance of community. We need to love one another every day, for, in a moment, everything can change.