Revisiting 9/11: The Day the World (& my life) Changed Forever

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 in nation’s media.  What could be better? Great 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 office that looked south, directly at the towers 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. An air traffic control situation what went woefully wrong? A quickly descending jet that the pilot had lost control of? Some sort of internal explosion in the tower? The one thing that did not occur to me was a terrorist attack.

Always a reporter at heart, I quickly called WTIC-AM radio to talk to morning show hosts Ray Dunaway and Diane Smith about what was happening in front of me. As I waited on hold, I watched as the second airliner made it’s 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 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?

I later encountered a sobbing woman on the sidewalk on 42nd Street as I walked to Grand Central in the chaos. In business attire, she had clearly could not make sense of what was happening and was emotionally lost in the big city  I picked her up and we walked together to Grand Central and got her on a New Haven line train. I never got her name. 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 work day as it continued to smolder (it was a good three month 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 the stairs. Strangers speaking to each other and offering comfort.

The world then became a vampire to me. Fast forward: a divorce, personal struggles, the occasional nightmare and ugly thoughts rushing back every time I see a jet overhead. Things will never be the same.

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 everyday, put things in God’s hands (as we choose to see him) and make the world a better place in our own small way.

God bless those we lost eight 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 everyday.” – Mike Benjamin