On the morning of September 11, 2001, the sun shone brilliantly in a cloudless blue sky over Long Island.
It was a routine day for us. As dorm parents and teachers at a boarding school, our weekdays began early. Bruce shooed boys out of the dorm and then headed off to class. I loaded Caitlin onto the school bus and turned my attention to Amanda and Ailee. Amanda sat in front of the TV watching Nickelodeon’s morning programs. I needed to get her to preschool and then meet a friend at a scrapbooking store at 9am.
I loaded both girls into the car and popped in a children’s music CD. Amanda sang along and Ailee, only 3 months old, fell asleep in her car seat.
After dropping Amanda off, I headed to the store. I turned off the CD and tuned in to the local talk radio station. Curtis and Kuby were frantically discussing a terrible accident that had happened only a few minutes earlier—a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
The two men, one a democrat and the other a republican, talked of the tragedy and one (I don’t recall who) began to wonder if this might be some sort of domestic terrorism. The other denounced such a theory. As they argued my only thoughts were that I hoped the people in the North Tower were able to evacuate.
Just a few minutes after nine, both men went silent. Background noises, a throat clearing, then one made the announcement: a second plane had slammed into the South Tower. The men had received word that the plane had actually accelerated as it nosed its way along the rooftops of lower Manhattan.
I pulled into the parking lot of the scrapbook store, grabbed Ailee and ran into the store. “Do you know what’s happening?” I asked the lady at the counter. She didn’t.
Quickly I recounted what I had heard on the radio. She flipped on her TV. Every station was covering the event.
My cell phone rang. My friend would not be joining me. She was watching the TV as well. I called Caitlin’s school. They were in lockdown. I called Amanda’s preschool. Same story there.
Confident that my girls were safe, I headed home and switched on the TV.
Glued to the screen and clutching my baby close, I watched the coverage. Firefighters and police ran into the buildings. People trickled out, gazing up to see the damage.
Reports of two more planes disrupted the coverage of New York. The Pentagon was targeted. And another plane slammed into a field in Pennsylvania. Coverage returned to the towers.
Suddenly, without warning, the top of South tower groaned, leaned, and pressed itself to earth, crushing the rest of the building.
The television viewpoint shook as the ground trembled. Reporters, horrified at the scene unfolding, ran for cover as the cloud of ash and debris billowed out in all directions. As the dust began to settle, people resembling a post-apocalyptic movie set emerged from downtown. Papers drifted through the air settling blocks away from the fallen tower.
Half an hour later, the same fate came upon the North Tower.
I made a phone call to my parents. “We’re 50 miles from downtown Manhattan,” I told them. “We’re okay.” We were all concerned about my cousins who lived in Brooklyn and in lower Manhattan.
Hours became days and the television was rarely off. Students at our school began to deal with the news. Making a phone call became impossible as it seemed everyone was attempting to call in search of someone. The campus was oddly quiet.
The usually busy air space above Long Island was silent. When the flight ban was lifted a week later, students and teachers on campus watched planes overhead with strange apprehension.
In the days and weeks following, I cried with friends and students who had lost someone in the towers.
We reminisced about the towers and the area around them. In the 1990s, Bruce had taken a group of students to the observation deck. Bruce and I had stayed at the Marriott Hotel (which stood between the towers) when one of my cousins had gotten married only a few years earlier. We had shopped in the shopping center below the towers and had made use of that subway stop on many of our adventures in the city.
We finally heard from my cousins. They were all physically fine. Fred and Erica watched the planes hit the towers from their apartment window in Brooklyn. Their office, not far from the towers, had sustained some minor damage. Steve and Kim on Hudson Street were okay. Nora and Wayne were also safe.
Fifteen years later I have difficulty watching video of 9/11. As my pastor said this morning, 9/11 is my generation’s Pearl Harbor. My generation’s Kennedy assassination. It is a moment frozen in time and I will never ever forget where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.
Fifteen years later and I have visited the new memorial. I dug deep to control my emotions when I saw the names, the roses, the notes, the waterfalls…the people lovingly tracing with fingertips the engraved names of friends and family.
One World Trade Center, or “Freedom Tower,” exemplifies the spirit of the city that never sleeps. It is the phoenix from the ashes; a giant defying the sky while thumbing its nose at terrorism. Rebuilding Ground Zero was necessary for the healing of New York. The new tower sharing the landscape with a sprawling memorial is a fitting life lesson: Never forget but always move forward.
I still feel a twinge at the sight of the Twin Towers in movies and old television shows. I suppose that is expected. And while I will never forget, I will always move forward.