On September 11, 2001, I was preparing to drive my fiance’ to work at her office on the upper east side of Manhattan. Our wedding was in 18 days, her parents were literally in the air from Korea that very morning and due at JFK in a few hours, and the sky was blue. It was going to be a great day.
It wasn’t. What I initially thought was a Thurman Munson sort of accident at the first tower turned the World Trade Center into a huge black smokestack from our vantage on Queens Boulevard as we drove toward Manhattan. When we got to her office and saw everyone surrounding the TV, we saw, live, the 2nd plane hit shortly after 9am.
Within minutes, the words came from the reporters and our own mouths.
Within less than an hour, we realized that we were a cab ride from the ground zero of a coordinated attack. There are moments that slow down for me as I recall and will be with me forever.
I recall thinking that fear and adrenalized fight or flight reflex I felt was akin to what my father must have known in Korea and the South Pacific. I understood what it meant to be attacked. And while I was not the target, I didn’t know if I could be. What would they get next? The Empire State building? Would they sabotage the subways? What would happen to my future in-laws plane? I never felt the same before or since. I’d never look at a veteran the same again.
Ann wanted to stay in her office in case her parents called; I’d have none of that. We English majors are too versed in irony for her to remain behind that morning. Port Authority bridges were closing but we took a local bridge into the Bronx and I drove home on highways so quiet it felt surreal. When we arrived at my mother’s house in Ossining, Westchester County, some channels had a test pattern and phone coverage was out in many areas. We spent the day going through the Rolodex of loved ones with any connection to Manhattan to assure they were safe. Older brother? Check. Nephew who attended college in Mid Town? Check. It took days to reach Ann’s aunt in Chinatown. With every person reached and answers trickling in from the media slowly, we counted blessings one at a time.
You know the rest. You lived it. We were fortunate that we lost no one from our immediate sphere of influence. Almost 20 of my fellow Villanova alums died that morning. I still hear stories recounted of brushes with eternity. The one I can’t forget is how one lady went back and apologized to the Starbuck’s barista whose coffee goof made her miss her train and saved her life.
As for us, we married 18 days later with my in laws, a little sore from almost a week in a high school gym in Minnesota, present. We began having children immediately, because we believed in ourselves and our future. Our Four are our army of hope.
And this morning, we explained to our oldest son Luke, why Mom and Dad were up all night and why people were dancing in the streets of New York and DC. 10 years later, US forces severed the head of the snake. Living in a mansion in the same town as Pakistan’s version of West Point, our Navy seals dealt justice to Osama bin Laden.
I hope a Giant has awakened.
I hope the crisis of confidence our nation has had for so many years is past us.
I hope we remember the good we are capable of.
I hope we start acting like we believe in ourselves and the future again.