This following is an unusually personal account of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 and its effect on one person’s life
There have several occasions over the past ten years when for one reason or another, I wanted to throw the covers over my head and check out from reality. But no day is this truer than the tenth anniversary of the day the world—and my life—changed forever. As far as media coverage is concerned, I feel much like I did on September 12, 2001. I just can’t get away from the coverage and the return of the memories that are now burned on my soul. Every channel, every newscast, every newspaper, every conversation—kind of tough for a news junkie like myself. It’s unavoidable. Back on 9-12-11, I immersed myself in reruns of Happy Days, Klondike Cat and Bugs Bunny; anything to make the immediate world go away. Other than an entry on my blog, The Hanging Shad, I haven’t written or spoken about that day. I need to change that now.
The dawn on September 11, 2001 brought what was sure to be yet another magnificent day. Life was idyllic. I had a great job in Manhattan, my wife and I had just returned from a magical vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and I was looking forward to being back in the city, continuing to make my mark on the nation’s media. What could be better? Beautiful wife, great job, my favorite time of year and professional success. I waited almost gleefully on the MetroNorth platform in Brewster, NY for the train.
Two hours later it was clear to me the world was ending. With a picture window in my 34th floor office that looked south, directly at the towers of the World Trade Center and my desk facing the other way, my assistant came in and told me to look behind me. I saw a gaping, burning whole in the north tower, black smoke and flames billowing out of it. I had no intellectual explanation for it. Did an air traffic control situation that went woefully wrong? Did a pilot lose control of his airliner? Was it some sort of internal explosion in the tower? The one thing that did not occur to me was a terrorist attack. The rest of the nation had yet to catch on but my window became a movie screen—“No way that just happened,” I thought.
Always a reporter at heart, I quickly called WTIC-AM radio to talk to morning show hosts Ray Dunaway and Diane Smith (back then, just names I knew; they have both since become friends) about what was happening in front of me. As I waited on hold, I watched as the second airliner made its way across the horizon and slammed into the south tower. “The world is ending,” I thought at that point. I don’t remember what I said on the radio except that in all my years in the media, it was clear this was beyond anything I’d experienced. The explosion was of biblical proportions.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur—no cell phone service, no regular phone service, only e-mail which I used to notify my family I was safe (at least right then). The two towers later collapsed in front of us, further numbing my mind and questioning the prognosis for the world. More than 3,000 innocent souls lost. How could this happen?
Only after we saw TV news report of the airliner hitting the Pentagon did we realize our nation, always secure while wars were fought on foreign lands, was under attack. There was serious question as to what we should next. Stay in the building? Get out before something hit our structure? There was no script, no game plan for what to do.
Hours later, we decided to try to get home. For me, that meant getting back up to Grand Central and trying to find a train back to Brewster, New York and drive the short distance to our home in Danbury. It was utter and pure chaos. On the way, I encountered a sobbing woman on the curb of the sidewalk on 42nd street and 7th avenue. In business attire, she had clearly could not make sense of what was happening and was emotionally lost in the big city. I helped her up and we walked together to Grand Central. It was closed. We sat together for hours, putting each other at ease to the extent that was possible. We talked about family and dreams for the future, where we came from and where we hoped to go. Eventually they reopened Grand Central and I got her on a New Haven Line train. I never got her full name and to this day I wonder about her and whether the dreams we discussed that day came true for her. I eventually got on the lone train back to Brewster still wondering if what I just witnessed was real or whether I would awake from a horrific dream.
The coming months meant looking at Ground Zero every workday as it continued to smolder (it was a good three to four months before it stopped). The subway hubs were transformed into gigantic missing persons’ centers as hundreds of pictures of the missing were posted by still-hopeful relatives and friends. Prior to that near-apocalyptic day, if you were too slow to get up the stairs or didn’t stay to the right, you risked being overrun by the crowd. Afterward, people stopped and helped you up the stairs—strangers speaking to each other and offering comfort.
The world then became a vampire to me, set out to drain me. Fast forward: a divorce, personal struggles, the occasional nightmare and ugly thoughts rushing back every time I see a jet overhead. More recently, a fall in December 2009 could have easily paralyzed or killed me and from which I am still rehabilitating. Now that I am based in Boston, I sometimes nearly lose it when I see a jet ascending from Logan Airport. The visual from my point vantage point, coming into Boston from Cambridge, is that the plane is heading up but the Prudential Building and the Hancock Towers are higher. In my head I know better. But in my heart I pray that the plane doesn’t smash into one of the two tallest structures in the building (not to mention the use of Logan by the 9-11 monsters). Not everything that has gone wrong in one’s life can be traced back to a single day. I believe in personal responsibility. And all things considered, I am much better off than most people who were close to the life-changing attack. However, I also know things will never be the same. The old saying, “Time heals all wounds,” is partially true. It heals some wounds. Others need to be managed with the help of others—friends, family and other caregivers.
I thank God every day that life is now good. I am fortunate to have a great, new job in Boston; I still get back to Connecticut often to do political analysis for NBC-Connecticut and FOX-Connecticut; write my blog almost every day; appear on radio on various issues; write the occasional op-ed in state’s largest newspapers and keep in close contact with political leaders. I will never take any of this for granted as long as I am on this earth. I haven’t commented in this space yet about mosques near Ground Zero (or what is a cemetery for a certain part of me) or Islamic prayers at the opening of city hall meetings. It’s rightly the source of passion for some. It just seems so inconsequential to me.
I don’t claim to know the suffering and grief endured by those that lost a loved one on that day. I do know that the images ingrained in my mind will never go away. The only choice we have is to persevere, try to be a better person every day, put things in God’s hands and make the world a better place in our own small way.
God bless those we lost ten years ago and those who have perished since as a result of that day. And God bless the rest of us who were spared.
“I wish my life was like the water, ’cause water always finds its way. I wish my life was like a sunny, sunny sky, comes up shining every day.” – Mike Benjamin