It is only now, 11 days after the tragedy that struck NY and Washington that I can start writing about it.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Day one, we were awakened about 3:45 am by or son calling from Monterey to tell us. My husband answered the phone and said something like “Oh my God!” As I listened I tried to prepare for the worst. The worst I imagined was that something had happened to my Mom or Dad or son or daughter or their families. We ran for the TV and that began our transfixation with the news which is ongoing even today. I guess it is a way of staying connected to events and people and the need to connect has been very strong over these last days. Friends were staying with us and we woke them and all sat dazed by the early morning hour and the horrific events that had just happened. We were up in time to watch the second plane hit as it actually hit and both buildings come down. We learned that the escape was orderly, no one seemed to panic, and people helped each other. A yellow lab Seeing Eye dog got his master safely down. Some folks just couldn’t walk all the flights down and were last seen sitting on the stairs. At the bottom, it was so dark you couldn’t see anything. People had to hold on to each other, and as they moved forward, they realized that the walls had been blown out.
It was remarkably similar to watching a movie about an airplane disaster. It all looked so familiar since we have been playing out disasters of this sort for years in our films. Can this really be happening? Always before the movie ends and we go on…forgetting the horror. This time we will never forget. The worst images are of the people who chose to jump out of the upper floors rather than face the terrible fire. A flight attendant is found with hands bound and throat cut. She must have been thrown out of the plane. We are convinced at first that there had to be explosives in the buildings since they imploded just as if it was a planned demolition. An expert tells us that the extreme heat of the explosions from the airplanes caused the weakening of the structures and they melted. Said that originally buildings were designed to withstand the direct impact of a plane and they did withstand the hits, but the heat was not anticipated. A comparison was made to a bucket of sand. If you drop the full bucket on a glass table, it will break the glass. If you pour sand on a glass table, it won’t break since the grains on the bottom cushion the others as they fall. This is what happened as the lower debris cushioned what fell on top and the pile just grew. The building‘s design saved countless lives…had it toppled rather than imploded, it would have done far more damage to the surrounding areas.
A sense of numbness and disbelief stayed with us all day. We watched the disaster unfold all day. The TV was on at work. Golf game was canceled. Sadness everywhere. Bad news on all fronts.
All the beautiful young firemen and police. Who knows how many in the WTC were killed, how many were injured, how many survived. Who could have done this? Everyone suspects Osama Bin Laden. Who are you that you think you know us well enough to hate us that much.
Reports of a plane that went down in Pennsylvania…speculation that it was headed towards Camp David, but something happened. Phone calls from folks on the plane paint a desperate picture of passengers reacting to the murder of a flight attendant, being herded into the back of the plane, making calls to loved ones and telling them that they were voting on what to do, but looked like they would try to rush the terrorists. This must have been what did happen. But the plane went down and all were killed. We later learned the plane was headed to the Capitol and the three young businessmen who had said that they were going to try to do something have become heroes honored by Congress. No telling what would have happened had they hit the capitol with Congress in session. The family stories show young children left without their parents…mothers with children and babies on the way. Lots of calls. Friends called from Mississippi later on in the morning of day one…they thought maybe we hadn’t heard yet. Talked to Mom and Dad, my sister on the e-mail…same reactions…what is going on? The President is in Florida and does not return directly to Washington. Has a press conference in Louisiana, then in Nebraska. Some are critical of this, but later we learn that Dick Cheney told him not to return to Washington until security was assured. Fighter escorts accompany him to Washington.
Newscasters are tired and haggard-looking. Peter Jennings and Dan Rather are troopers but are fading. Peter Jennings has a show with lots of kids on. Their perspective is fresh. They seem to know a lot. Their mentors are with them and we hear from faith leaders. Beginning to talk a lot about Islam. This is not in the teachings of the Koran. Whatever they believe, however they define a holy war, it is not consistent with Islam. These are psychotics using Religion as an excuse like so many others before them. Everyone calling for greater understanding and tolerance. The e-mails are coming in a mile a minute…pictures of fierce eagles superimposed over the WTC. Lots of bravado, but many pleas for understanding and restraint. The President finally begins to sound like a President.
The next days are similar. They go by in a blur. I can’t talk much about it at work…too numb. We finally learn that our son’s very good friend, who was close to the area hit at the Pentagon, was not injured. As the aide to the chief of NSA, he and the General were whisked into the 4th level basement following the attack and he was not able to respond to cell calls until late on the second day. Thank goodness. We were to learn later that that area of the Pentagon had undergone renovations that strengthened the building…amazing shots of windows that did not break.
Too numb to cry. Depression is very real and we arrange for a Hospice volunteer to give a session on bereavement counseling to those at work who want to listen. We worry about the shut-in elders who may be already depressed. What will this do to them? Are they sitting watching TV all day with no on to talk to? We will call the telephone reassurance agencies to see if they can handle more people…maybe our staff can take on some of the calls. We must reach out to help these folks.
Governor’s wife looks grim on Thursday and afraid and a bit sick. Says it is so bad. Really bad. I guess she means the economy as well as the human suffering injury and death. Who will come to Hawaii now? All flights are canceled, airports closed. Mainland friends vacationing here cannot get Northwest Airlines on the phone. Due to leave on Wednesday, but that just won’t happen now.
We give frequent hugs at work. Thank goodness for all the caring people in the office.
Slowly the airlines begin to fly again. Friends from the mainland are told they can leave on Sunday – three days late – but to plan on three or four hours ahead to make it through security.
My Granddaughter tells me that some bad guys did this. Grandson says he talked about it at school and his plan was to rebuild the WTC in several different locations around New York. Spoken like a true builder’s son. He thought that there should be a park or memorial on the site of the attack.
Looks as if about 6000 folks perished, literally were pulverized, when the building collapsed. Citizens of over 60 nations. Someone announced in building two that everything was under control and that everyone should go back to their desks. That must have cost many lives. Only about 30 people remained hospitalized a week after the attack. So few injuries because either they were minor or people just didn’t make it out in one piece. Sarah Ferguson was late to work at her charity. Her staff were in the lobby waiting to greet her and take her to the upper floors to the office. She arrived just after the first attack and put her staff in the car and drove off with them to safety.
Day 12. The news of our state’s economy is so grim. Beaches are empty. Hotels running at occupancies in the teens and twenties. No mail. Governor calls emergency meetings with big business and small business and announces that this is the worst economic disaster to ever hit the state. Plans to raid all funds to help with relief for businesses; free tuition for those who lose their jobs; tax relief…all which spell very low revenues. We expect major cuts in the budget. Damn the terrorists…we were just getting back on some solid footing and this comes along.
I am having trouble sleeping and have lost my appetite…probably some depression. Husband tells me that I have my job and should be grateful. What about all those others who lost theirs? Guess I should feel gratitude for so many things, but the worry for all those families who lost loved ones and all those who did lose their jobs, and the worry about all the seniors who are hurting and perhaps have no one to talk to about this. I think that worry over others gets to you just as much as worry over your own personal problems.
I see my physician to learn about my echocardiograph results. A perfect report on my heart. I do share with her how depressing it all is and she invites me to come back if I need to be treated for depression…I guess that means taking drugs. But it is really a good feeling to know that she is looking out for her patients and will take care of us. In the long run each of us needs to understand how to get the help we need-.in most cases-to ask for it from the right sources. If we wait for it to come to us, we will be disappointed. For women especially, we have to learn to rely on ourselves in the long run.
The best news is the outpouring of concern from around the world. People must know that they are as vulnerable as we are – perhaps more so. But I think that they all share in the sadness at the loss of our innocence. America has not had an attack on our soil other than Pearl Harbor and the new sense of vulnerability is not easy to live with. I believe it is shared by people from all over the world. At least there was one country that had been spared. One refuge to feel safe in. One bastion of a strong economy, a strong defense system, where all could come. Now that is gone.
Whether or not it will ever come back is yet to be determined. We will undoubtedly get complacent, but we have lost our innocence. Let’s hope that the world will unite in efforts to stop this from ever happening again. That will be the salvation. I doubt we can do it by ourselves.
March 24, 2002. Six months plus after the 9-11 disaster.
Watched an excellent television documentary made by two French brothers who had been in NY in a fire station filming the day to day activities of the men, the probies (probationary firemen) and waiting for the fire that was to finally test the newest probie. Their firsthand account of the events of that day and the events that led up to it are incredibly revealing. It is the most comprehensive look at how the events unfolded and how it affected the firemen and others who witnessed it up close. All members of that fire station were saved in spite of being the first on the scene and in the building. But they were in Tower one which collapsed second, so were saved.
We are forgetting. It is in the past. We are concerned that our economy is recovering too slowly. Hawaii as a tourist state, suffered terribly in the aftermath. Empty airports, few flights, decreased revenues, loss of jobs, higher demands on social agencies, etc. etc.
As the rubble disappears and the monument takes shape, we try hard to ignore it. What is in our faces daily is the war on terrorism. The fighting in Afghanistan, the President’s threat to use nuclear weapons, the worsening relations between Palestine and Israel. Our federal budget is targeted to supporting the war and leaves social and health programs lacking.
I am still personally angry that it may keep my grandchildren from visiting me via flights without adults. I hate the inconveniences of security that is strange and at times seems overdone. Yet we just gave visas to dead terrorists who wanted student visas to take flight lessons. Go figure.
We are still stunned by the pictures and stories, but it is fading. We cannot sustain the kind of horror and disbelief and sense of insecurity that the original event provoked. Life must go on and we somehow need to regain that which we lost, or at least part of it. Yet we know that we are still vulnerable and in ways we can only imagine. Welcome to the real world, America.
ONE YEAR LATER – October 2002
We were all saddened by the remembrance of the Sept 11 events. The TV stories were the most poignant reminders of what and how we felt last year. The fear is still with us but it has faded into competition with all the other fears of this life. Our lives have changed. The airport security remains the most vivid change and the inconvenience is annoying but we accept it with some grumbling. The videos have been put together into well organized shows that seem almost like movies. The best of all is the French documentary shot during the summer and Sept when the fire company was called out to the Twin Towers and all members returned safely. Incredible footage. All the children born since the tragedy were brought together for a photo shoot by CBS. To remind us that families were affected forever by this. We will always be fearful of the next attack wondering when it will come, but knowing it may not affect us when it does. It is a giant gamble.