Saturday, September 11, 2004

Never Forget

9/11 affected me very deeply. I’m not sure why. I didn’t know anyone that perished that day. I was working about 20 blocks north of ground zero when it happened. My office was an open, loft space-design with a common area at the south side of the building. We had huge floor-to-20 foot ceiling windows and a TV sitting in front of those windows.

We had an unobstructed view of the Towers.

We saw the whole thing live as well as in techni-color. There was something incredibly chilling about seeing something from 20 blocks away and then looking down to view the zoomed-in close-up on TV. I couldn’t see the second plane hit; it came around from the south, but I did see the fire-ball that was blown out of the north side of the tower.

I have a lot of memories from that day. But two stand out and define that day for me. They are difficult to put into words, but I’ll try.

As the buildings burned and we watched in horror from our office, we could see activity outside on the upper floors of the towers. We were too far away to make out what was going on and there was a lot of chatter in the office about rescue efforts and helicopters lifting people to safety. A lot of hope and wishful thinking. A lot of people trying to get their minds around what was happening. I was about to run out and try to buy binoculars – there were several stores within a block or two of the office that I knew sold them – but there was so much going and I was finding it difficult to leave. Then, the news broadcasts finally started reporting that people were jumping from the building. My legs gave out, I think. I slumped to the floor and stared to into nothingness as my mind began to grasp that the small black dots we were seeing were people trying desperately to escape. Thank god I never got the chance to buy those binoculars. In this Friday’s New York Times (9/10/04) there was article discussing that even now no one, the experts and survives alike, talk much about those that fell or were forced to jump. I remember them.

Later that morning as the shock and disbelief began to wear off and as city continued to be locked down tighter and tighter we realized that we no idea how we were going to get home to our loved ones. We did surmise, however, that cash might be useful in finding ways around closed bridges and mass transit shut downs. A group of 4 or 5 of us were the first to leave our little office since everything began and went in search of a working ATM. As we left the building and stepped into the gorgeous sun drenched day that Mother Nature had blessed us with, I recall marvelling at the number of people out and about on the street. But it was one gentleman that caught my eye and again drove the events of the morning home for me. He was taller than me, perhaps 6’1” or 6’2” and he was a mess. A homeless man in tattered rags and the vacant expression that many New Yorkers know so well from frequent encounters with the truly destitute homeless. Except, he wasn’t homeless. Then I began to really notice him. His shirt was actually that deep blue, so popular in business dress. This morning it was probably pressed crisp and clean and put on with pride by this man. Now it was so deeply embedded with dirt and soot it looked worn out and trashed. His slacks were obviously suit pants, now torn and dirty and his shoes were of better quality than I can afford. But all along it had been that vacant look in his eyes. I asked him if he was alright. He turned and looked through me, rather than at me and said, “No, not really.” And, he continued is walk up town. I knew what he meant and I knew I couldn’t help him and so I let him keep walking. I like to think to he walked to an apartment somewhere uptown and was greeted by a grateful family and was soon alright.

I was able to get on train out of the City later that afternoon. It took a long, stopped at every stop and was the most overcrowded I'd ever seen. It was also the best train ride I'd ever taken. I drove home from the station and hugged my wife and tried to understand what happened that day. Let's always remember.