On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., I can’t help thinking how quickly the past 20 years have gone by.
It seems like only a couple weeks ago that I saw a headline about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Rushing through my morning email, I didn’t read the story and thought the pilot of a small plane must have lost his bearings.
Minutes later, an editor I worked with mentioned he might be canceling his out-of-town trip because of the attack. Before I could jump back online to see what he was talking about, my wife called to tell me I might want to turn on the television.
Just like that, my world turned upside down. As a freelancer, I was used to going through dry spells, when the #1 challenge was finding enough work to pay the bills. This had been one of those times, but not after 9/11.
Suddenly I had multiple assignments from several publications and news services. They generally needed to be done in the next few days. Jumping into action, I went from a leisurely pace to 12-hour workdays.
Personal Ties to 9/11
The attacks happened on a Tuesday morning; by 4:30 p.m. Friday I was bushed. After backing up files, I shut off the computer and was glad I didn’t have to work on Saturday.
There was another reason for my fatigue: I felt attacked personally. Granted, we then lived about 750 miles from New York. But my brother was a police officer at LaGuardia Airport.
Now, I knew LaGuardia was a long way from Manhattan. Still, I didn’t feel at ease until I called him and discovered that he was fine—he had had the day off.
However, on Sept. 12 he started 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, for months. In all, 23 co-workers from the New York Port Authority died at the World Trade Center. Two of them were members of his training class.
Trip to Manhattan
In one of many ironies related to that experience, we had visited New York about three months prior to 9/11 for our nephew’s high school graduation on Long Island.
Since the ceremony was held on a Thursday night, after brunch the following day we drove to the old Shea Stadium and hopped the subway into Manhattan. After learning there were two-hour lines to see the Statue of Liberty, we took the ferry to Ellis Island instead.
We had intended to visit the Trade Center on that trip, but by the time we were done with Ellis Island everyone agreed it was time to head home.
“Guess we’ll see it next time,” I commented as we prepared to board the subway.
The other memory that stands out from that period is the call we received from our youngest daughter a week after the attacks. She was then in Germany, where our son-in-law was stationed with the Army.
“I just had to make sure everyone was okay,” she said. “I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I just wanted to make sure.”
I understood. That was the reason I called my brother’s home two months later, when a plane crashed in Queens shortly after taking off from JFK Airport. Although it had engine and mechanical problems, at first many feared it had another terrorist attack.
While I knew a couple in-laws in Queens weren’t close to the airport, I still wanted to talk to my sister-in-law to make sure.
When the going gets tough, those who matter most rise to the surface.