Monday, September 11, 2006

Do you remember?

When I was little I would hear the adults talk about how well they remembered where they were, what they were doing when they heard about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Now I know the feeling. My generation can say the same thing about the 9/11 attacks. It has been five years and I still get the same gut-wrentching feeling I had that day.

It was one month before our wedding. I was living with Grace and Josh had recently moved into what would be our first apartment together. Josh picked me up and we headed downtown for work. Neither one of us watched TV or listened to the radio, so we had no idea what was going on at that time in New York.

We walked into our office like a normal work day and prepared ourselves for a day of service. As I was at my desk, my co-worker, whose desk was butted up to the front of mine said, "Haven't you heard? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York." I remember giving and astonished laugh and thinking, "What a freak accident!" I was thinking it was a little crop plane whose pilot had lost his way or something. But my co-worker was very sombre. A little later I heard the secretary on the phone saying, "Are they evacuating the Sears Tower?" This is when I realized something was terribly wrong. I headed to the back of the office, the kitchen area. I then noticed that the office was eerily quiet because everyone was back here, glued to a TV they brought out from another room. Here I saw for the first time the smoke billowing out of the first building. I don't think the second one had been hit yet. My heart stopped. I was sad for the people in the upper levels of the building, but I figured most of the other people would be able to evacuate the building.

The sequence of the next events was a blur. The second building was hit. The first building fell. There were rumors of other planes in other cities (was Chicago a target?). The second building fell. The Pentagon was hit. Another plane crashed (shouldn't we all go home?). The other building collapsed. I don't remember in what order this all happened. There were pictures of people covered in ash running frantically from the buildings. It looked like they were filming in black and white. The crashes, the collapses were replayed over and over again. We repeatedly saw the reaction of the newscaster standing with the buildings in the background as the second building was hit. One of the ladies in the office was frantic and could not stop shouting exclamations. I was glued to the TV.

I had the thought that my parents would be trying to contact me. I returned to my desk and the eerie quite. There was a voicemail from my mom. She was concerned that Josh would be drafted to war. This was the very first time it occured to me that this would be an attack from another country. I started to tear up. I selfishly thought that we would never be able to have our wedding.

I began talking with co-workers. We were wondering, hoping that we would get sent home. Because of safety. Because we needed comfort. Because we all wanted to be with our families.

No, the day would go on. There was a rumor that a plane might be headed for the Sears Tower. Dang, we had to drive right by it! As we drove out of the downtown area and headed to the south-side we watched the tallest building in Chicago. Others were already watching it. Camera crews were stationed at bridges with their cameras poised. I remember breathing a sigh of relief as we headed south and away from the skyscrapers, and dreading coming back. I wondered if we would even see the tall tower on our way back.

At our site in Englewood our work was not so much of passing out fare cards, clothing vouchers, and referrals for mental health. Today our clients needed someone to talk to. They were scared, angry. So were we. I don't know how we did it, but we managed to bring a little bit of comfort to Holy Angels Church.

We did not know anyone personally in the World Trade Center, but they say that everyone 'knew someone who knew someone' and we did. We were also effected simply by living in Chicago and working downtown. It brought fear that other large cities, tall buildings would be attacked. Would there be another attack the next day during rush hour in another large city? Then next month at the same time?

We got married one month and two days after the attacks. We heard word from many who were invited that they were afraid to come into the city. We are so greatful for those who did come to witness our vows and to celebrate with us. It was a joyful occassion in the wake of a very frightening event.

While we were on our honeymoon we decided to shield ourselves from the outside world during this tender and special part of our lives. Near the end of our retreat we switched the TV on to hear the word ANTHRAX plastered over all of the stations. I had no idea what anthrax was. We watched the news for 10 minutes and switched the TV off to enjoy the rest of our sheltered time together before returning to the real world.


1 comment:

Joe Esposito said...

Perspectives on that day never fail to grab my attention.