OP/ED: Remembering 9/11 Ten Years Later

Ten years ago our country was shaken by acts of terror. On this, the 10th anniversary of that fateful day citizens across this great nation gathered to reflect on the state of the country, remember the lives lost and the unspeakable tragedy, and to memorialize the heroes.

As I stood silently grasping my young daughter's hand in a park as American flags unfurled across a clear blue sky during a dedication ceremony in Southold this morning the comparisons began, it was a day just like today 10 years ago. The sky was a clear, bright blue and the temperature was in the 80s with a light breeze, by all accounts it was the most perfect day ever until it wasn't, until it became a living nightmare.

Like most people on the East Coast I was driving into my office mentally running through the list of things I had to do that day, calls to make, meetings to schedule, dry cleaning to pick up, a date with my husband later perhaps. I was simply enjoying a cup of coffee when the news announcer's voice broke through the latest pop songs and thought the morning DJ's were playing some sort of horrible joke, the reality of what they were saying was unreal. I thought that it was a page out of Orson Wells "War Of The Worlds" as I turned up the volume eager to hear the next words or perhaps the laugh track. There would be no laugh track and in fact many weeks before anyone laughed again. This was not a joke, but at that moment, in those first few horrible minutes it was an accident, some horrendous air tragedy. As the minutes ticked by and I drove further a second plane crashed. Coincidence? No. New York was under attack, reasons unknown.

The first two planes, I thought, had to be one consolidated act of hate. As one of the few New Yorkers at the time without a cell phone I would have to wait nearly a half hour to speak to my husband when I reached my office. In the time and miles that separated me from my home the news stations called in terrorist experts, news analysts, emergency responders, a collection of talking heads who would give their opinions and speculate on the events as news helicopters scrambled to get into the air and roll the horror across the airwaves.

Then the third plane crashed as I turned onto the most picturesque street in Southampton, Hill Street. As the canopy of bright green leaves and dappled sunlight enveloped me, usually one of my most favorite parts of my drive to work, the voice on the radio who was giving a report from the Pentagon screamed that the building had been hit. The visceral fear in his voice nearly caused me to veer off the road. As I gripped the wheel with white knuckles and continued on one mile further I was breathless. This wasn't over. This was only the beginning. What unspeakable horror would come next?

Greeting my colleagues that morning was a scene I will never forget. We huddled together around a television screen in the office next to ours silently watching the towers burn, shock in our eyes. The urgency to act was palpable, but what action was right when everything was suddenly so wrong? I called my husband, a police officer and volunteer fireman and asked him what to do, what should we do? Then the south tower, the second to be hit, imploded and crumbled to the ground in an angry growl of metal and torrent of glass. Before he could answer I swayed and watched thousands fleeing the streets of Manhattan. The phone lines jammed after that and calls in and out of New York were impossible for hours. Minutes later a fourth plane crashed.

Afraid to move I sat at a desk, stunned. Frantic that my husband would be called to respond to New York I listened to the news and watched as the north tower crashed to the ground, a cloud of ash and paper devouring lower Manhattan and filling the once clear blue sky with the pall of death and destruction. The office was closed for the day after that, we hugged and went our separate ways desperate to return to our homes and the safety and shelter of our families. To wait.

Over the days that followed my husband would indeed head to Ground Zero to aid rescue and recovery efforts there. He remarked that the smell was something he'd never forget. That the look in the eyes of the people he passed on the streets was something he'd never want to see again. They were lost, scared.

I have spent the past week trying to explain the complex layers of the day and the 10 years that followed to my children in ways that won't scar their innocence as the truth of that day has scared me. What have we accomplished these past 10 years? I remember, I don't forget, I still have hope that people are basically good. But how do I explain the psychopaths who believe in nothing but hate and fear and murder and ignorance to a seven year-old and an eight year-old and even to myself, a 37-year-old? Are they the evil one percent that balance all of the good in the rest of us? God, I hope so.

This morning in the sunshine I stood beside my children as prayers were read, bells tolled, and I watched firemen and policemen stand at attention before a 15-foot piece of steel from the 33rd floor of the North World Trade Tower stoically fighting back tears for friends who ran up the stairs of an inferno as thousands rushed out. I had held the hand of a woman earlier this morning as we walked up the street to the service, she had been a block away from the Twin Towers and lost the love of her life that day, she was a woman whom I did not know. Near the end of the ceremony as she gently, hesitantly touched the steel, atop which stands a 35-foot Osprey sculpture by artist Julio Bessin, and then placed a flag in the ground at the base of the structure she wept. My older daughter with the wisdom of her eight little years locked eyes with her and softly smiled, the gentle smile of a child filled with caring and compassion. The woman smiled back. Perhaps there's hope for us after all.

OP/ED: Hurricane Irene In My Neck Of The Woods

For days the tension was palpable, there was a storm brewing, literally, and its projected path was through the small town where I live in peace and quiet with my little family. As neighbors rushed to prepare for Hurricane Irene in the late summer days of 2011 by boarding up windows, testing generators, stocking up on batteries, and divesting the grocery shelves of bread and water, I was in a surreal haze. What was I supposed to be doing?

Yet, really what could I do to prevent a hurricane from destroying my humble little abode? It was unthinkable here in New York. This sort of thing happens down South where it's sunny and warm all year long. What would it matter if I had a fridge and pantry stocked with provisions if the power went out? It would all go bad and I would have wasted a few hundred dollars. Armed with little more than my cell phone, a flashlight, my daughter's Barbie radio, a first aid kit, and enough food for two days or so we hunkered down in the darkness and went to sleep as the rains came.

Throughout the night the wind howled and rain came down in sideways sheets. A foolish few on the roads struggled to reach safety. Trees bent to the ground and those not pliable enough snapped under the intense pressure. When dawn broke, Hurricane Irene was fully realized and tearing her way across Long Island downing trees and ripping her way through power lines leaving over a half a million people without electricity.

The ocean met the bay Sunday morning and TV weathermen earned their keep broadcasting live while screaming into microphones as intrepid cameramen fought against the power of Mother Nature to stay focused. Nary was a shot missed. For those of us in the storm's path these scenes were reviewed in clips days later as we picked up the pieces of roofs torn from the rafters and cleared yards covered in debris.

I spent the day nervously watching the blistering attacks from the comfort of my living room equally splitting time calming the fears and then managing the challenging attitudes of my two young daughters. They had cabin fever and they were scared, a lethal combination as any parent can attest.

The calm after a storm is a fragile place. Much like the Munchkins from the Land of Oz, one by one residents of my little town emerged to assess the damage. Phones were down, electricity was out, and cell service was spotty at best. The intense quiet was replaced by the droning hum of generators that would continue unabated for days.

Much like tourists in an unfamiliar place, my little family bundled into the car and drove through the streets pointing at downed trees, oohing at overturned boats, and ahhing at flooded roads. We clustered with neighbors and shared a meal as children played and adults worried over the outages and about those still in the middle of the storm further north. The back bands of wind and rain reminded me that we weren't completely out of the woods yet. Armed with flashlights we re-entered our home for the night.

The normal Monday morning alarm did not ring, cartoons did not invade the morning, coffee was not brewing. The sun however was shining, the soft breeze a welcome companion. The drone and hum of generators remained throughout the day joined by the growling buzz of chainsaws. Clean up efforts began; life would go on as normal with just one misstep in the grand scheme of things. Neighbors helped neighbors.

By Tuesday, as is the want of a typical New Yorker, the complaints began. Complaints about the lack of power, the lack of warm showers, the lack of the internet, and the lack of cable TV to keep the kids occupied and adults informed. Strong personalities emerged but cooler heads prevailed as the lights went back on one by one. Refrigerators and freezers were restocked. Yards were cleared. Coffee was once again brewing and alarm clocks were back on duty.

Hurricanes, tsunamis, massive earthquakes, tornadoes, and wild animal attacks are not part of my daily life here on the Eastern End of Long Island, New York. There are no droughts or famine, no landslides nor volcanoes. Despite the best of efforts we have crime in New York, road rage in traffic, senseless crimes and the fear of terrorism. We have political corruption and in the Hamptons we have outrageous parties all summer long.

Compared to other areas across the globe the brief visit by Hurricane Irene to my tiny piece of Long Island was the equivalent of a splinter. Tiny in size, little pain, and no real damage after a day or so. But for me, it was a few fearsome hours that I'll never forget.