It’s another September 11th. Seems like a miracle thinking back to how bleak the future looked on the first September 11th, in the wake of the unfathomable terrorist attacks.
That first memorable September 11th morning, I was at work in my publishing office, when a young editorial assistant, newly married and newly expectant, came to me, visibly upset.
At the time, I had no knowledge of the terror attack, nor did she—but she had just heard that there had been a terrible plane “accident”—that somehow some poor plane had crashed into the WTC.
The cause of her alarm was that her husband, who worked at the WTC, was not answering his cell phone, and she, as well as her in-laws, were seeking confirmation that he was okay.
Before she headed to the restroom to relieve her morning sickness, as she did more than once each day, we prayed that her husband had not been hurt in the accident and that his cell phone would very soon become operational.
During her brief absence, updated news reports spread throughout our building. We learned that the accident was a terror attack. We also learned about fate of the first of the downed towers.
When the expectant mother returned to my office, a few colleagues, also privy to her concerns, tried to minister her. Frankly, no one wanted to break the news of the first building’s collapse. Without alarming her, we asked which tower her husband worked in. She didn’t know. What she did know was that he worked on the seventy-eighth floor.
We exchanged knowing glances, which our young colleague was too nauseous and upset to key into, and prayed that her husband worked in the other tower.
Then, when the news broke about the second tower, news that she became aware of, her husband’s family came to pick her up, too upset was she to drive home to wait for some word of whether her husband had survived.
Truthfully, we doubted he could have survived, given the high floor he worked on, and the fact that both towers had fallen.
She was not the only one to leave the building. Everyone was given permission. So many colleagues had husbands, wives, brother, sisters, children who worked in or around the Twin Towers, that our employer knew that no work was going to get done; we needed to seek comfort with relatives.
While I was empathetic to all around me, some so frantic, some trying not to pass out, some at the nurse’s office for suspected heart attacks, at the specter of what might have happened to their loved ones, I left, shaken and shaking, anxious to get home, relieved that none of my immediate family members were anywhere near there. Or so I thought.
After spending a number of hours, along with so many others, in prayer at a local monastery, from where we could see the smoke from the WTC and hear the fire and ambulance sirens, I went home to call our children—just to touch base with them in the wake of this tragedy.
That is when I learned from our expectant daughter-in-law, due in two weeks to deliver our first granddaughter, that our son had a meeting at the WTC that morning, had driven through the parking garage under the building, but had not parked there. After parking a few blocks away, he had walked to meet his colleague who took a train to the WTC, and on his walk had seen the evidence of the first plane attack and witnessed in real time, while on the cell with his wife, the second attack.
“I’ve lost contact with him.” Our daughter-in-law was sobbing. “For hours, now, there’s been no word. I don’t know what’s happened to him.”
I was numb and speechless. Here I had been anticipatory grieving for the young expectant editorial assistant, thinking that her unborn daughter would never know her father, and at the same time, anticipatory rejoicing that our daughter-in-law and son were safe, so that our granddaughter would not suffer that same fate. And now, I learn that by a twist of fate, unbeknownst to me, our son had driven through the WTC underground garage moments before the first plane hit, and our granddaughter could have been fatherless. I was numb and speechless.
By nightfall, his wife heard from him. He could not leave the city. He was staying overnight at a colleague’s apartment. He would be back home when the bridge reopened.
Thank God. And all I kept thinking for days and weeks after that was that for all those hours I was oblivious and secure in believing that all was well with my family, our son could have been killed. And I would have been one very shocked, disbelieving mother. I thought I personally had nothing to worry about.
And the former English teacher in me thought, as I do so often, in literary terms. This time, in an adaptation of a verse from one of John Donne’s poems:
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
And every American, I think, felt that way on September 11th. Every American no matter where he or she lived, whether he or she had ever been to the WTC felt the same way. Strangers or not. We all lost brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents and children that day.
…If you are wondering if we were correct in our fears for one particular young man–the husband of the young expectant mother…
Thankfully, we were wrong. He survived. After a time off for him and his fellow survivors, their company moved to another site. At their reorientation meeting, a bomb scare hit that building. The young man determined not to work in the City again. The couple moved to another State, after which I lost touch with them. I can only wonder how they remember September 11th and hope that he has found healing from the emotional nightmares—awake and asleep—from which he was suffering.
And although our son confided only to his father the hellish nightmares he suffered, reliving what he and his colleagues witnessed as they tried to lend a helping hand, I can only imagine, and try not to. In fact, I likely am one of the few adult Americans who purposely tried and continues trying to avoid watching videos of those events. Imagining is more than sufficient.
I pray no families will live that horror ever again. America, please bless your God…Dear God, please bless Your people who cry to You for help.
What is your September 11th story? In recalling, it’s good, perhaps, to remember what you, as well as others, thought, and did, and said in the context of the entirety of John Donne’s poem:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.