9-11 I Was there -Jane's Sunday Sermon
I live in New York City ten blocks from the Twin Towers. They were always my guide posts home whenever I was tooling around New York or flying in from some speaking engagement or from a trip I was on.
On 9.11, 2001 I awoke to a glorious Fall day in New York City and, as is my regular routine, I hurried out to my neighborhood bank at around 8.50 am to make a deposit. The bank is to the North of me on Broadway. My focus was North as I left my house. When I entered the bank, sounds of radios were heard from the behind the teller gates. I wondered and looked at the others in line with me. Radios- in a bank? I asked what happened and was told that a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers.
There were only a handful of us in the bank-maybe 10 or 15 when the doors opened and all of us walked backed out onto the street as if being drawn there by forces not in our control. From our stance on Broadway we looked up at the Twin Towers, still standing tall at the time, and stood transfixed as if our feet were planted in the concrete while billowing smoke poured from the building to our South. No one spoke. We just stood there with our heads tilted upwards.
Many minutes passed and we just stood there. I realized that I had my deposit envelope in hand,but still transfixed on the black smoke, I tucked the envelope securely back in my pocketbook and continued to watch with fellow early bank risers.
Finally, I started back towards my loft located just a couple of blocks south of the bank. As I walked, a thunderous crackling make me stop and look up again and like the looped video I was soon to see over and over again on TV, a plane crashed into the Twin Towers. At the time I thought I was reliving time and that somehow CNN was showing me the plane crash that the radios talked about in the bank.
I began to run. I felt like I was in some grade B movie where flames and loud noises surrounded me without end and, that if I did not get into my house soon, the world would open up and swallow me up and I would end up in China. I could barely breathe as I ran home.
Safely inside, I stopped to catch my breath, checked quickly to see that all of my dogs and cats were fine. They were not. They were huddled here and there all under something. One was under my piano, tucked securely behind a guitar I store there. Another was on my bed under a pillow. Still another had caged himself into a pile of socks on one of my closet shelves. These were not their ordinary habitats.
The phone was ringing and ringing but that was background noise to me. I didn't answer. I was transfixed on the TV as newscasters seemed at a loss for words to describe what they were seeing and hearing. I watched as the loops of one plane crashed into the North Tower. I watched as the loops of the second plane crashed into the South Tower. The first I had missed on the street. The second I had seen.
Suddenly, I realized I did not know where all of my family was. I picked up the phone and dialed frantically to make sure each was in their usual place. They were or so I thought. My Dad was on the West side drive heading up to our country home and had seen the impact of plane one and had stopped to pull over to the side of the road and saw the second plane making it's way down the Hudson River.
He was a pilot and had his radio tuned to the air channel flight patterns. He knew something was out of joint even before the second plane reached it fiery destination. Mom was at home with the TV on. My sister was headed over there.
They were safe.
At 10.45 my bell rang loudly- almost frantically It was my cousin, John, a lawyer, who worked right near the Twin Towers. He came upstairs and, when he entered my home, he was covered from head to toe in gray dust. His already gray hair was layered in more gray and he looked like a ghost from another world
"John," I whispered. "Are you alright? I was sure that if I spoke in ordinary tones he would dematerialize in front to my eyes. " I have to use the phone. He answered in a shaky voice. " BK's sister is an AA flight attendant and was scheduled to fly out of Boston today"."Oh no, John, No" I said in a louder voice.
He was already on the phone.
My bell rang again. Another cousin. Richard, arrived with the same ghost like appearance needing to use the phone. I felt helpless. There were my two cousins covered from head to toe from war zone like encounters from nearby downtown trying to verify if people they knew were alive or dead.
John gave a thumbs up to me. His sister in law was not on the AA flight 11 that charged into the North tower at 8.45 am Richard was still trying to locate friends in the area.
At 11.00 AM, my bell rang again This time it was my hairdresser, Nel.
"Nel" I said in disbelief. "Don't you know we are under a terrorist attack?"
" Yes I know" She replied and then started to quote the post office motto. “Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor terror attacks shall keep me from my appointed rounds". Well...that's novel! I thought.
I left John and Richard to their appointed rounds trying to locate their loved ones and friends and had my hair done all the while watching as CNN kept looping the plane crashes and the towers cascading down one after the other.
For weeks after, I would look out my window onto a barren street with no cars and no people and think of my ghost like cousins entering my home on 9/11 and wonder if New York had not, in fact, dematerialized. For weeks my windows had to remain closed as the overwheming stench and heavy air would filter in when they were opened making it almost impossible to breathe.
I wondered to myself as I closed the window how did anyone make it out alive that day. It was not until many days later that I learned that two of my neighbors and friends of my parents had, indeed, perished in the World Trade Center.
My Dad died one week after 9.11 of a massive heart attack or maybe just a broken heart. I was there at when 9.11 happened. It is seared in my memory.
To this day the deposit slip that went to the bank that day with me and then back onto the street that day and bore witness to an unimaginable crime remains in a drawer, undeposited. Perhaps I will try to deposit it someday when our country truly comes to terms with the meaning of 9/11. When 9.11 is remembered not as an excuse to spew hate and gin up fear but as a vehicle for unity of purpose.
Yesterday, we saw a glimmer of that as two first ladies,one present and one past, took the stage at the outdoor cemetery of 9.11 in Pennsylvania and talked about the real meaning of 9.11 and unity of purpose-each in their quiet but very forceful ways.
I began to envision a day when I could, indeed, deposit that 9.11 money into the bank.
We shall see.
Jane Mark is an author and a businesswoman online. She is president of JAM Marketing Inc. She Can Change The Way Your Story Ends.
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