Sunday, September 11, 2011

That Day: My 9/11 Experience

On September 11, 2001, I woke up refreshed and happy after spending the previous evening with good friends talking, laughing, eating delicious eats, drinking tasty treats and reminiscing.

The day started off for me as a good morning. I was energized to get to work early and start the day.

Never in my life would I have fathomed what would happen on that clear and calm morning just as 8:47am ET struck.

After arriving at work early to get a jump start on the day, I heard some hustling and bustling going on in the conference down the hall where the television was on, and went over to check it out.

I approached the room and saw that the TV was on and what I saw before my eyes was unbelievable. I wasn't really sure what I was looking at and not sure I was processing well what was happening. I stood there quiet and surprised that no one else was reacting. Not realizing it, tears began falling down my face. It's as if my mind knew what was happening as I saw the smoke coming out of the side of the first tower. However, my heart felt something completely different.

I immediately ran to my desk in a semi-panic to call my stepfather, who worked downtown a short distance from the location of the towers, and to confirm that my stepbrother was okay too since his building was on State Street near the towers.

Unable to get either of them on the phone I ran back to the conference room where the TV was to see what else was unfolding. I stood staring in disbelief. The words terrorism never entered my mind. It just didn't seem possible. But, watching what was happening before me, it was evident that it was true. I felt naive in that moment thinking how could this possibly be happening on American soil and in the land of the free.

While all of this was happening, I was trying hard to keep calm and gain clarity in what to do. All the while, I wasn't sure what to feel or believe. It was then at that moment that the second tower got hit and the building began to implode right before my eyes. Then, the next tower came tumbling down. I am pretty sure I stood frozen with my mouth wide open, gaping while tears streamed down my face even more.

I was dumbfounded by what was happening. I stood there in shock. I desperately tried hard to comprehend what was going on, and shocked and numb by the reality of the mayhem taking place in my home city. It really didn't feel real. It just didn't seem real. But, it was indeed real.

And, then to hear of the down Flight 93 and the crash at the Pentagon, I felt as if my world was going up in smoke.

Struggling to get friends and loved ones on the phone to confirm their safety and trying to stay calm, my colleagues and I wished to get out of the office as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, we were not able leave the building as personnel felt that it wasn't safe for us to exit to the street and that it was likely best for us to remain inside until they had confirmation we were not in danger. The panic rose from being forced to stay confined, and as we stared out our windows to see black billowing smoke coming up the avenue and rising high into the sky we became that much more concerned.

Again, I tried to get friends and family on the phone and then had some luck. My stepfather, thankfully, who commuted at that time of day to get into the office, was okay. However, his building was not letting anyone leave either since they were in the thick of the soot in the air and there was fear that there could be additional terrorist acts in the area including bombs going off. It wasn't until seven hours later that day that I was able to see my stepfather in my apartment safe and sound that I breathed a sigh of relief.

After a few hours in my office building, eventually we were given permission, at our own risk, to leave. And, leave is exactly what I did, what all of us did. I still worried about my stepbrother not knowing where he was, and unable to reach him or hear of his whereabouts. My stepfather was unable to get in touch with him either, at least for quite a while. Fortunately, my stepbrother is well. Turns out that he was desperately trying to get out of his office, walk over the Brooklyn bridge and get as far away from his office building where he saw the first plane circle around before crashing into the tower.

As I left my office to walk home, uptown for over forty blocks away, I first walked to my mom's office to get her and then walk her home with me, trying to keep her calm until we saw my stepfather in person.

As we walked towards my apartment building, military-style trucks were driving up and down the avenues to and from ground zero carrying large numbers of troops armed with weapons.

It felt like we were in a war zone. All I could think was, "are we at war?"

The black clouded soot was in the air and the smell of fear was ever present too.

The entire day my body felt numb and my eyes sore from crying. All I could think of was how many people could possibly be impacted by what was happening, praying hard that the numbers of people harmed were few. Only so many of my prayers were answered that day as the numbers of bodies that were found in the rubble was exponential.

In the days following 9/11 I was able to confirm safety of many friends and family. There were also many with "close call" stories that were blowing my mind. There were a number of people who were running late to work that day or stuck underground on the subway delayed to then arrive to see the devastation of the crumbled towers from the outside of their building.

I felt useless to the devastation that my city was experiencing. I felt like I needed to do something to help. It was hard to sit still and not do anything to help. So, help is exactly what I did.

To this day, I am incredibly thankful to the company I was working with at the time who gave me, and others, time to return back to work when we were ready. In that time I couldn't sit at home. I certainly could not watch what was happening, again and again on the TV. Instead, I got myself out of the apartment with bags of clothes, shoes and more to help bring to local sites collecting for those in need. So many people were forced out of their apartments and evacuated.

I spent time down at ground zero helping to serve food and coffee to emergency workers at restaurants that shut down for business and opened their establishments as mission centrals. I spent days and weeks in warehouses collecting and organizing an incredible number of donations sent by people all over the nation to those affected by the tragedy. People sent clothes, shoes, food, baby items, and even dog food. It actually got to a point where there was eventually too much stuff after it all got rationed out that we then had to coordinate getting it donated to shelters and other places.

September 11 will forever be a part of me. To the people who lost their lives that day and to the many families left with the loss of their loved ones my heart goes out to you.

I thank G-d everyday for life, allowing me to breathe air and to have my loved ones here with me not taken by this terrible travesty. Now, I have a responsibility to share this important day in our nation's history, take action to continue to help others and be thankful for what I do have and the people in my life who are here to experience it with me.

To those who lost their lives and to the families who continue to grieve, my heart goes out to you and I wish you peace and strength, if that's even possible. Your memory will live on forever and you shall never be forgotten.

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