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Reflections on 9/11

This is just one of hundreds of such posts that will no doubt be written today. Pilgrim’s post gave me the incentive to write this piece. It will be too long to put in his thread, but I want to give him credit for getting me started.

We were living in Albuquerque, New Mexcio on 9/11. My husand was at work. My daughter was on her way to school. Leslie was one of the first people in the country outside of New York to learn about the tragedy. She had just started driving herself to school; and she had stopped at Flying Star, a local chain of restaurants/coffee shops/newsstands that are hangouts for everyone in Albuquerque. She was waiting for her coffee when the woman in the booth next to her’s yelled out that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. The woman’s son was standing looking out the window of his Manhattan apartment talking to his mother on the phone when the first plane hit the tower. Leslie has since remarked that on the drive from our house to the restaurant the big news story was Michael Jordan’s return to basketball. After that stop for coffee, the news was all 9/11. The world changed on her way to school.

Much as I hate to admit it, I was still asleep. Les and my husband both called me as soon as they got the news. Still grogy from waking up so suddenly, I stumpled to the TV. That began a week of crying and watching the horrifying news. The next night was parents’ night at Les’ school. Red swollen eyes and headaches were almost a fashion statement that night. The headmaster gave a short talk about not letting fear overtake us. Not clutching our children too tightly because of this tragedy.

Living in New Mexico and being a Westerner, it would seem that my life wouldn’t be touched by 9/11. Not directly anyway. Not true. A neighbor boy, a graduate of Les’ school, was in New York that day interviewing for a job in a building across the street from the World Trade Center. He ran out of the building panicked. Covered with ash and stunned, he was picked up by a family of New Yorkers, taken to their apartment and cleaned up. They called his parents to let them know that he was safe. Traffic into and out of the city was at a stand still. A senior at Penn State, he walked out across of the bridges and hitched a ride back to school with a truck driver. We’ve moved since this happened, so I don’t know where he is now; but I do remember him that following summer being outside his parents house at night talking for hours on his cell phone. Walking by causally, I could almost feel the stress rolling off of him.

Friends my daughter had made since 9/11 were asleep in their apartment. They live across the street from Ground Zero, and woke up to find fire in their apartment. They escaped with their dogs, but it was two years before they could move back into their home.

The daughter of a couple that we’re friends with was on her way to work in the financial district. She was on crutches from an injury to her feet. She was told to go back to her apartment, then told to evacuate. In a panic she forgot her crutches. Walking with friends, she could no longer keep up and was left alone sitting on a curb. Her boyfriend came to her rescue by coming from his apartment on the Upper West Side and carrying her between subway stops until they got to his apartment. Everyone in the US has stories like these. Many are much more tragic.

Often I walk alone at night. It’s my time to plan my projects in my head. It’s a relaxing creative time. Until Halloween week, there was still a pall over our neighborhood. American flags sprouted everywhere. It was common for me to see people standing out on their porches just staring at the sky. Gradually the pall lifted and things got back to almost normal.

The news media did the best it could reporting such a horrific tragedy, but I’ve often wondered what happened to many of the people who were interviewed. One girl who was combing the streets looking for her brother and boyfriend sticks in my mind. Did she ever fine either of them? One man from Boston had come to New York to find his daughter who worked in the towers. She had called immediately after the first plane struck to tell her family that she was fine. The fear and grief in that man’s voice as he was interviewed still makes me queasy with I remember how he sounded. That story had a tragic closure. His daughter did not make it out. How are her parents dealing with the tragedy?

Thses last 6 years have been important ones for the US, and I’m horrified at the path our country has takend since 9/11. On a phone call to my brother, an epidemiologist, I once remarked about how unique 9/11 was in the size of the tragedy. Bill remarked that more people die every year in the US from lack of affordable health care than died in the towers. Not to belittle the tragedy of 9/11, it’s huge. However, there are so many tragedies that go on everyday, that most of us ignore or never even know about. At this point, I just sigh, vote my conscience, and try to make things better a little at a time.

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