To remember 9/11, here's part of an article I wrote for the fifth anniversary in 2006.
Our nephew was one of the lucky ones. Five years ago on September 11th 2001, he was trading stocks in the World Financial Center, across the street from the doomed Twin Towers. From his office, he saw the flames after the first plane hit, watching, horrified, the desperate people jumping from the windows. Then the second plane hit. “Our building shook and paper started flying around outside. We were told, ‘Get your wallet, phone, keys – and evacuate’”. Twenty floors down, on the street, he was amazed to see thousands of people milling around and just looking up. “Dad always said to me, ‘If you’re in a bad situation, just get out of there’, so I said to my friend, ‘Lets’s start walking home’. So we did, weaving in and out of the crowds. I didn’t look back.”
Ground Zero, where the towers stood, is now on the tourist trail. Like other out-of-town visitors to New York City, I felt I just had to see it – an empty, bleak building site, the tall cross formed of rusty girders from the wreckage watching over it. Ironically the World Trade Center, symbol of modern America, was just a block away from one of the oldest parts of Manhattan. Nearby is the little Episcopal Chapel of St Paul, where George Washington once worshipped and where his personal pew is still marked, with its churchyard that belongs in an English village. Five years ago, the graves were enveloped in dust and ash, the church turned into a sanctuary for the firefighters and rescue workers. Among the volunteers who took a turn helping out, was my sister-in-law, so thankful that her son was alive that she felt she just had to do something. She worked the night shift, handing out socks, bandages , Kleenex, breakfast, a listening ear. She swept the floors and helped make up the cots for exhausted workers. It was such a very American operation. They laid on massage therapists for the firemen while a pianist played to calm fraught nerves.
There’s an exhibition there now – one of the cots, covered in soothing teddy bears, still displayed. Among the letters and gifts sent from all over world, a British policeman’s helmet and in the churchyard, a bell from the City of London to symbolize the links with the City of New York, “forged in adversity.” And round the corner, St Peter’s Catholic Church – the oldest Catholic parish in the city –where the body of firemen’s chaplain Father Mychal Judge, officially the first casualty of September 11th, was brought and laid before the altar. Even years later, it was impossible to see it all and not cry.
Here in the countryside, we’re light years from Manhattan. People say, “We’ve moved on”, but they can’t help talking about what they were doing when the planes struck. On an ordinary morning, kids safely in school, my friend, who runs a stables, came back from riding to find a message from her husband: “Annie, put on the TV, the children may need you.” Everyone thought of their families first.
Our nephew still works in New York. Taking the subway every day, in an increasingly volatile world, he’s conscious that it may just be a matter of time before something else happens. “I try not to think about it and try to think about moving forward – you have to. We’re going to be undeterred and keep going on and doing our daily work. But we’re never going to forget.”