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9-11 Reminiscence

September 11, 2011

On September 11, 2001, I was in a breakfast meeting on 42d St in New York City when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I remember thinking it was an action movie re-run, seeing it on the restaurant TV. No one paid much attention. As we paid our check the second plane hit the second tower, and we grabbed a cab and headed to our offices on 22d and 5th. Very quickly, we were surrounded by emergency vehicles, all heading towards the crisis, regardless of the obvious dangers they faced. They were the heroes we honored then and honor now.

We got out of the taxi at 23d St and 5th, and stood there, watching in disbelief as the two towers burned, and then collapsed into themselves, one at a time, and disappeared, leaving only huge plumes of smoke and dust and ash behind. Stunned would be an understatement for what we felt. There was no context in our lives for feelings such as the ones that we felt. We had been viciously attacked! America! But, by whom?

I was with Nicolo, from Venice, and Ivana, who lived in New York but was an Italian from Perugia. Nicolo looked at me and said:

” I am really scared”. I asked him of what?

“Of what America will do tomorrow”. His words were prophetic, as it turned out. Then, he received a cell-phone call (rare that day) from a client pointing out that he was late for an appointment. Nicolo explained. The client had apparently been out of touch all morning. This sort of thing happened that day.

After securing our offices, calling my wife’s school to make sure they were aware , getting everyone fed and on their way home ( a more difficult task than usual given the waves of security precautions that ebbed and flowed or were rumored to be in place), I walked to Grand Central and took a train filled with very grateful, very dusty people, and got home early on 9/11. Throughout the train trip not one person said one word. Again, there was no context for the feelings that we shared that day in New York City.

A week later, my wife Ann and I walked downtown and got as close to the site as we could to pay our respects and make sense of it all. We were able to get much closer than we ever imagined was possible. America’s concept of security has changed since then. Everything was covered with a fine layer of grey-white dust. We came upon folding tables set up apparently as a first aid/triage station during the crisis. The tables, too, were covered with that gray-white dust, as were the lumpy piles of objects on the tables. Upon closer inspection, those piles turned out to be dozens of bags of saline drip, and bandages, for the possible survivors and wounded who were evidently expected to be carried from the towers.

Those supplies sat there, unused, a silent testimony to the fact that while many fled, there were very few survivors in the typical sense. This event was different, and more horrible, and we would learn that no bandage could bind this wound.

My wife and I stood there, silent, and then we walked slowly and sadly back to Grand Central and went home, past the thousands of heart-breaking pictures posted everywhere stating “Have you seen my husband/wife/brother/sister” that lined the streets, Union Square, and the station itself. These were the missing, and we were beginning to realize through those hundreds and hundreds of pictures the human scale of this tragedy. These were the casualties of war- war on our soil and in our city and against all America stood for.

Back in Connecticut, I found out that the police had to chalk the tires of the cars in all the train parking lots- to figure out which ones belonged to people who would never pick them up again, the people in the pictures. Again, these were the casualties of war, war on our soil.

As a result, America and the world came together, and for awhile we had a chance to be a better country,and participate in a better world. We let that chance slip away.Now,that chance has passed us by, and been forgotten amid the petty priorities of our everyday lives.

Today, on 9/11/11, I pulled into the parking lot of a huge chain grocery store intending to rush through my morning chores. The radio was playing the 9-11 ceremonies, and they declared a moment of silence for the first plane strike. I stopped, and sat there, and turned the car off. Across from me another man evidently did the same. We waited. We respected the moment. Then we raced into the store, carts at the ready. As I churned down the aisles, the Store manager announced a second moment of silence in honor of the second strike. Everyone stopped their carts and many bowed their heads, and all you could hear was the store Muzak- I guess they forgot to turn it off. Then off we all went again in our mad scramble for weekly groceries. But twice in 30 minutes, people stopped what they were doing, and paused to remember. We remembered what happened 10 years ago, especially those of us old enough to have first hand knowledge.

I returned home, and while unpacking the groceries and listening to the roll-call of the names- read by the children and relatives of the missing people whose pictures had been everywhere after the attack, I was finally overcome. It all came back. A wave of that same emotion swept over me. My heart went out to the families of the missing pictures as well as the families of the responders.

Now, on the 10th Anniversary, maybe a lot of us felt today what we felt 10 years ago, and we can use that to try to come together again; as a city, as a nation, and as a world. We can honor and respect each other, replacing fear with faith and hatred with compassion. We can be kind to one another.  We just have to want to make this change happen- each of us and all of us, just as we did ten years ago.

To the families who suffered loss, my profound sympathy. To the rest of us who went through it, the loss was our innocence. We remember- we can never forget.

Thank you.

Crans Baldwin

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2011 12:17 pm

    Thank you so much for this post you very accurately described many of the emotions I experienced that day and the days to follow. Ten years later I live in a lovely apartment that not only overlooks Trinity Church but also a part of the WTC site. Despite the many and varied reactions to the plans I feel a sense of moving forward and healing in watching all the activity from my window each day. Bless all those who were lost to us on that sunny September day.

  2. leslie permalink
    September 12, 2011 11:49 am

    Well put. Thank you for sharing

  3. Nicolo permalink
    September 11, 2011 3:59 pm

    Thank you, Crans.
    The memories of that day cannot be erased.
    I was listening to the radio this morning some idiot stating that 9.11 has been overstated having happened in NY, the capital of all media, and that 3000 casualties in a war are quite “normal”.
    This had been a very different war: a sudden attack on the soil of a country that had been spared by wars for almost one and a half centuries, and targeting innocent people.
    There have been many mistakes in the reaction, but today we must leave this aside, and just pray for those victims whose single guilt has been being in the wrong place on that bright sunny morning….

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