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.

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