I overheard two young mothers asking, “Is your child’s school requiring students to wear red, white and blue tomorrow?” I thought, as I walked by, how interesting that here in Southern California there are observations such as that for an event that happened, for these children, long ago and, actually, pretty far away. On the other side of the country in fact. I mused about how when one has no school-age children or grandchildren a person can miss out on stuff like that.
As someone who was on that side of the country at the time, my memories rushed back. I was living in New Jersey. My California daughter was headed for a business trip to Miami, and we spoke on the phone the night before she left. Mid-conversation she suddenly gasped. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “We’re having an earthquake,” she said. “Hang up right now and call me back,” I said. In a short time the phone rang and she was back. “It was just about a four-point-something on the Richter Scale” she said, “nothing to worry about.” “Okay,” I said. “Get some sleep. And have a good trip.”
At a little after 9 the morning after, the phone rang and that same daughter’s voice said, “Your disaster seems to be worse than mine.” I asked what she was talking about. “Have you turned off the radio?” she asked. I had. NPR broadcasts in our home for a certain amount of time before we start our day: reading the newspapers, feeding the dog, eating breakfast, showering, going for a morning walk. Our daughter brought us up to date: a plane apparently had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. “What can you see?”she asked.
I rushed down to the kitchen where a small television set provided breaking news for two former journalists. Concurrently, I peered out the window. Located in Montclair, New Jersey, 14 miles from New York City, our house pointed toward midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building. The two scenes were surreal: out the window, blue sky, sun glinting off the Empire State Building; on the TV screen, billowing smoke pouring from a building we had visited many times, escorting out-of-town visitors and through which Ed had walked daily on his way to work at AT&T. We moved our gaze between the two scenes in disbelief. Before long, the third plane crashed into the Pentagon and we soon learned of the aborted flight of a plane headed for the White House.
Quickly our concern shifted to our New York daughter living at the time in Brooklyn and to her fiance working in mid-town Manhattan. Cell phones were useless. All that remained was waiting for word. We learned later that our daughter had stood at the edge of the Brooklyn waterfront staring across at the horror playing out in the city, while her fiance had struggled with untold thousands battling his way across bridges and out of the city.
The California daughter and fellow staff members were trapped in Miami and New York unable to return to Los Angeles for two days. The group in New York rented a car and headed back across country. Our daughter and those with her in Miami got on the first plane to leave the city. New Jersey, like all the Greater New York Region, and indeed all of the nation remained in shock and disbelief that anything so horrendous could happen to our country.
In the days that followed, we attended a memorial service for a young neighbor who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and various prayer services throughout our community and others nearby. And eventually we took ourselves to the World Center site itself where we walked somberly with others around the devastation’s perimeter, people talking in hushed tones in many languages, asking, “Why would anyone do this to us?” Later a retired military friend took us to Arlington National Cemetery for a vantage point from which to view the Pentagon’s attack location.
This evening The Rachel Maddow Show ran a special program on MSNBC in which NBC’s live action reporting from the first inkling of the disaster and beyond was broadcast. It is something that should be seen by everyone who was alive then and living nearby as well as those who lived far away or had not yet been born. It will explain why the flags are flying at half-mast today and why their children are asked to dress in red, white and blue.
Photos: NYC from Montclair, New Jersey, 9/11/01; telegraph.co.uk