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In memory of September 11, 2001

September 9th, 2011 · No Comments · Disaster Relief

I used to work at Merrill Lynch in downtown Manhattan between 1999 and 2001 at 222 Broadway, a block from the World Trade Center. I’d have a little ritual every other day after work. I’d walk down Fulton Street, cross Vesey, walk into the World Trade Center and cross the walkway into the World Financial Center, and down to the Merrill Lynch Fitness Center. From time to time, while walking through the World Trade Center courtyard, I’d walk right up to the South Tower, put my hand on one of the shiny steel beams, and follow that steel beam with my eyes straight up into forever. The feeling was tremendous. It felt like I was touching the sky. I’d smile, half at the feeling of invulnerability, and half at how ridiculous I knew I looked to everyone around me.

I got laid off from my job in Manhattan in August 2001. I remember spending the next few weeks lazing around and feeling pretty sorry for myself. But it wouldn’t be too long before those feelings completely reversed.

This is a PATH card. When I used to live in New Jersey and work in Manhattan, I used to use these every day. I’d always buy 40-trip cards, it’d take me about a month to use one up. Now, being somewhat defiant over being laid off, as well as a little bit of a cheapskate, I told myself—I’m not going to lose that $3.00. Even if I need to take the PATH train into the City, buy a hot dog at my favorite hot dog vendor’s cart, and take the PATH train out of the City, I’m going to take that trip. I planned on doing it the day the card was to expire.

charitable gift giving path cardpath card from 911

Now at the time I was serving on my church board and because the church was having problems with the power, I had to meet the utility guy at church that day…so long, $3.00.

If you look at the expiration date on this PATH card, you’ll see it says 091101. September 11, 2001.

My apartment back then was in Montclair, NJ, on top of a mountain. It had a great view of Manhattan—you could see all the way from the George Washington Bridge to one side, to Perth Amboy on the other side. My bedroom had two windows, one with a view of the Empire State Building, the other with a view of the World Trade Center.

empire state building from steve's window world trade center from steve's apartment

The morning of September 11, at about 8:50, I looked out the window to check the weather before I headed out to meet the power guy. I did a double-take as I looked out the window and saw what looked like smoke streaming from a smokestack. My first thought was…funny, I never remember there being a factory  there before.

Then, when I looked more closely, I saw that the smoke was coming from the World Trade Center. I realized something was very, very wrong.

I flipped on the TV and got nothing but static. I turned to every channel and got nothing. Finally I landed on Channel 2 (the CBS station whose antenna was on the Empire State Building, not the World Trade Center). The first image I saw was a close-up of one of the towers, with a big hole in it. The news reports were sketchy. At first they thought it was a small plane that crashed into the towers. But when the second plane hit, they knew it was an attack.

I went back to my window and sat there and watched. I took a picture.

It was eerie. There I was, on top of a mountain 20 miles away from the chaos. Like every other day, it was quiet and peaceful. It was a beautiful September morning. A light breeze was blowing. The trees were bright green, and the leaves were gently flapping in the wind. The birds were chirping. And amid all of this, a horrific sight of the twin towers on fire. And all I could think was…what kind of hell are the people there going through, while I am sitting here in complete and utter silence.

My sister called me to make sure I was okay. She was watching everything from Davis, California. While I was on the phone with her, I saw the first tower disappear in a puff of smoke. I remember my jaw dropping. I just stared in shock and blurted to her—it’s gone…it’s gone. When the TV signal in California finally caught up to the live events, she finally realized what I meant. Minutes later, the second tower collapsed.

Like everyone else, the next few days were completely surreal. I just had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t eat or sleep at all that night…I just sat by the window, and watched the afternoon turn to dusk, the dusk turn to night. I just kept continual vigil by the window.  I could see the light from the rescue crews illuminating the site where the towers were.


I remember that other than Channel 2, I also got Channel 31, which at the time was a religious station. It had pre-empted all its programming, and just had a video of a slowly-waving American flag. Superimposed on the flag were Bible verses, and the audio was a mixture of hymns and patriotic songs. I remember finding much comfort in that.

The night turned to morning. I remember the sunrise that morning, like most of the sunrises over New York City, was beautiful. I also remember how the beauty of the sunrise was so incredibly incongruous with the ugliness and horror of the smoke that continued to rise from the site.

sunrise on september 12

I switched between channel 31 and Channel 2 all the next day, which played in the background as I sat looking out the window. The images on TV hit home for me, because I was seeing places on TV and the Web that only a month earlier I’d walked every day. The Stage Door Deli. The Merrill Lynch Fitness Center. The atrium at the World Financial Center. The escalators leading down 5 WTC, that had been under construction for so long and had just finished construction. And of course, 1 and 2 WTC.

There was a picture on of a group of men running with terror in their faces past a Mrs. Field’s cookie store on Fulton, with the towers collapsing behind them. That picture was taken across the street from my office at 222 Broadway.

There was a picture on of a co-worker of mine, holding up a picture of his missing mother. There was a sentence on talking about how my old Managing Director, nicest executive I’ve ever known, was one of the missing.

After a while, I just shut off the TV. I wanted to remember it exactly how it was every morning. Arriving on the PATH train into the basement. Taking the long escalators up and reading the “Welcome to NY” signs. Walking by the Godiva and buying the occasional chocolate-covered strawberry when I wanted to treat myself. Taking the shortcut through the Borders and up to the street. Buying a hot dog from a street vendor who sold the best dogs in town.

I kept the shades drawn on my second bedroom window for at least a few months after that. I couldn’t look at the skyline. Whenever I did, I could only describe what I saw as a huge gaping hole in the skyline. I wouldn’t travel to lower Manhattan for years. I wanted to remember everything exactly as it was.

Do you remember the days after 9/11? As a nation, we were all in shock. But something totally unexpected happened, something the terrorists didn’t figure on. Instead of the country falling apart, it came together. The first things we heard out of the horrors of 9/11 were the stories of amazing love in the face of evil. We heard about the man who decided to stay in the burning tower because his friend in an electric wheelchair could not go down the stairs. We heard about the man who called 911 and asked the operator to say the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 with him, and begged her to tell his pregnant wife and kids how much he loved them. We heard about hundreds of firefighters racing up the stairs of the doomed building to try to save as many people as they could.

Perhaps inspired by them, we all made resolutions in those weeks afterwards. Blood banks had to turn away people because they had more than they could use. The members of Congress stood together and sang “God Bless America” on the capital steps. People flocked back to their churches and synagogues because we knew how weak and helpless we are on our own, and we knew to seek answers from a higher power than themselves. And people started helping people.

Sadly, on 9/11/2011, the world doesn’t look all too different from what the world looked like on 9/10/2001. Blood banks are continually short on blood. Politicians and people of both political extremes seek nothing but to demean and destroy their opponents. And love really seems to have grown cold.

And so as we pass the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, and all these memories come flooding back, it’s a good time to reflect and to think back to what you were doing on September 12, September 13, and that whole week afterwards.

I know I made a lot of promises that week. I’ll bet you did to. The question we need to ask ourselves is…did we keep them?

If not, it’s not too late to make good on them once and for all. In fact, there’s no better time than today to start.

The following are some charities that were set up in the wake of 9/11/2001. Many of them still need your support. As we pass this 10th year, please consider giving them a helping hand.


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