September 11, 2001: The day the earth stood still
September 8, 2011 —
On September 11, 2001 life as we know it changed forever. At 9:59 EST, the unthinkable occurred when Al Qaeda-affiliated hijackers flew two jets into the World Trade Center towers. The approaching 10th anniversary of the event has stirred up a flood of memories for millions worldwide. For many of us, it has become an opportunity to work through this experience by sharing those memories with one another. Here is mine.
I lived in Santa Monica, CA at the time. At 7 a.m., there was an urgent pounding on my door. My friend and neighbor, Mark R. stood before me, visibly shaken, phone in hand, insisting that I turn on the television. As I did, Mark informed me that he was on the phone speaking to his best friend who worked in the south tower of the World Trade Center. Every morning they spoke before starting their days. On this morning, his best man and the godfather of his children was shaken.
“Something is wrong,” he told Mark. “There’s smoke and alarms and noise, and I have no idea what’s going on.” By now, Mark and I both knew that two planes had struck the towers, and he asked my advice, hand over mouthpiece. “Do I tell him what we’re seeing?” he whispered as I turned the sound down on the set. I was still trying to absorb the news crawl and whispered back. “I can’t advise you. I don’t know what to think myself.” Mark did not reveal our observations to his friend, but as the nightmare unfolded, it became more difficult not to share what his friend could not see: the gaping holes in the towers, the billowing smoke and the sheer enormity of the unfolding disaster.
“They’re telling us to not panic,” Mark’s friend said. “Don’t hang up; stay on the phone with me, please, until they tell us where to go.” To us, watching the news, the reality of his plight had begun to sink in. I couldn’t help but think what my own friends, some of whom worked in the district, were going through, and desperately tried to reach them, with no success. The sheer distance from my home state made it even more difficult in a way, since I felt like a useless bystander, unable to help my friends and family in any immediate sense. Meanwhile, Mark attempted to calm his buddy, telling him that there was a fire and that help was on the way. He chatted away for 56 more minutes—until the south tower collapsed before our eyes on the television. The line went dead.