On September 11, 2001 I had been working in my new job with the University of Tennessee, housed at the Department of Human Services. In a little over a month my soon to be fiancé would be moving to Knoxville from New York City. At the time he was working in lower Manhattan a few blocks from the World Trade Center. I was going over a file when a co-worker passed my desk saying some idiot had flown a plane into one of the Towers. As I jumped up to get more information she realized what I was thinking. We hurried to the break room where a television was streaming live video. There was a group of us gathered in that small space. I could see both towers burning. Then, as if in some slow motion science fiction film, I watched as one of the towers collapsed. I watched the clouds of debris spread like a blooming flower of dust, expanding over the area and covering everything. I sank to the couch unable to speak.
I did not know the love of my life was in the subway beneath the terror above experiencing his own terror. Trapped in a subway car that could not go forward and staggered back to the previous station in bursts of energy he believed he might die.
I spent hours trying to reach him by phone but lines were overburdened and calls went into space. My father was living in Queens and I did manage to get through to him. Although he was only miles from what has become Ground Zero he was calm and unconcerned. In many ways his attitude got me through the next few hours.
As our country was being attacked and thousands were murdered in what had been my hometown for thirty-five years we heard more news. A plane crashed into the Pentagon and another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. My husband finally reached me by phone and told me he had gone to Chinatown for lunch after escaping the subway. It would be some time before I got all the details of what he experienced. At that moment I was first furious that he had not gone straight home, then concerned because his behavior seemed irrational. How could he think of lunch when the city was collapsing? I realize now he was unconsciously grasping for something normal in the midst of madness.
We all have our stories and our memories of that terrible day. It has taken years for my husband to be able to watch video of that day and he is still disturbed by the memory. On the other hand I watch again and again as the towers are hit and come down. I remember when they were being built. I remember taking my children to the observation floor. I remember the shops, the offices, the elevators and escalators. Most of all I remember the throngs of people inside. Try as I might I cannot connect with the horror of the moments he spent beneath the ground as the towers descended or the confusion he felt as he finally came up into a world of darkness where residue and debris clouded the air and obscured the sun. All I can do is hold his hand and thank God he is here.
We must never forget that day. We must remember where we were, what we felt, and the thousands who died and thousands who still suffer from the experiences. There are families who lost loved ones, loved ones who still suffer physical and mental effects of the day. Those weren’t just Towers that came down. There were people who had every right to believe they were safe, working to support their families. They were not soldiers. They did not go into a war zone. Most never had the chance to say goodbye to loved ones and those who did say good bye could not understand why this was happening. For all those who lost loved ones we must remember; for those who survived and carry the burden of the day we must remember. We must tell our children and grandchildren. And we must count every moment as a gift, cherishing our time with loved ones. Because like it or not, there are a lot of madmen in the world and life should be treasured in the memory of those who lost their lives on that dark day.