The Stuff That Sticks

Like millions of other people, I was working and living in New York City on September 11, 2001. Everyone has a 9/11 story. Riding into work this morning, my train car was full of people talking about that day. Like a train full of veterans that lived to tell about it. Many of them had lost co-workers or family, but today, they talked about the little things. The weather that morning. People helping each other. The police walking around Penn Station with their fire arms out and on the ready.

Their conversation reminded me of the days and months and years following the sudden death of my mother-in-law. My husband, his sister and I would talk through every moment that led up to her passing over and over again. We’d be eating together, driving together, you name it – and all of a sudden one of us would start talking about how all the events unfolded. It was a devastating loss but talking about it, somehow dissecting it with each other was good for us. From the outside it must have sounded depressing and morbid, or like we were adding salt to the wound. But really it helped the healing. And it felt so nice to do it with people who wouldn’t hurry you through thinking about that day into the,” she’s in a better place” or “you’ll be ok soon”. Mourning slowly and long is ok. Mourning in bits and pieces is ok.

9/11 and the weeks that followed are both a blur and extremely clear in my head. Here’s what goes through my head today about that day:

  • I walked into the building at work not having watched the news. My boss, now one of my best friends, was coming in too. She said,” Did you hear what happened?” We went upstairs, grabbed another co-worker, and went to a company coffee shop – called Java City I think. They had two TVs broadcasting live. A tower on fire. News channels hadn’t expected to show people jumping out of windows so we saw everything. All three of us were crying. I think everyone in that shop was crying.
  • Not sure how/when we came back down to our floor, or if the other tower had been hit at that point. TVs were brought into a small conference room on our floor and people were either frantically calling home or watching the footage.
  • Here’s a totally wacky thing. There is a comedian named Jason Mantzoukas who’s quite famous now. But on that day, he worked across from our floor and did presentation building. He was the funny dude who would help put together our agenda packets, etc. He’s the one that helped bring the TV into the conference room, and I remember spending part of that horrible day with him. When I see him on Parks and Recreation or in the movies – all I can think of, is him sitting with us and crying.
  • My husband stayed behind at work (a choice he regrets now) and I walked home alone, with a hundred other people. We were like zombies shuffling out of buildings and onto the streets.
  • The next day was surreal. It was the most surreal day I have ever been through. No planes. No cars. No buses. All the stores were closed. The streets were empty uptown. Downtown was still a war zone. There was almost no one outside.
  • Everyone that didn’t lose someone in the city was huddled around a TV watching the coverage. President Bush came on and threatened retaliation. It was exactly what we needed to hear.
  • One of the most miraculous things was that my daughter was only 3. Completely, happily, oblivious to all the chaos and manic fear. I have never been so thankful for bedtime routines and snack time.
  • One of our events a few months later was at a production of The Producers, which had opened that April in NYC. It was one of the first nights after 9/11 that I remember being in a big room full of people that were laughing and joyous.

So ofcourse I’ll “Never Forget” the loss. But I remember so many other things too.

IMG_0564

It’s funny now

It’s September 11th and I’m at an airport, again. I’ve flown on this day many times in the past 12 years. It doesn’t spook me.
It does get me thinking about my first flight after that date in 2001.
My world, like everyone’s world had stopped for weeks. It was not business as usual both personally and professionally.
Events were cancelled or postponed – and everyone was in a collective fog.
Slowly – the wheels started turning again and we began to plan events at work.
Early October I boarded a flight out of JFK to Rochester, NY. I was flying in for a quick site inspection and out that same day.
I decided to fly Jet Blue. They were a new airline back then and one of the only that had free Direct TV at every seat. Sold!
The flight was completely normal. Then it was time to land.
As we approached the runway, all of us felt the plane speed up. It bumped the runway and hopped back in the air.
Everyone looked around nervously and waited for an announcement. Nothing.
We were back in the air.
Again we approached the runway, bumped harder and back up we went.
I was at the window seat. The older woman sitting next me grabbed my hand, she was crying. We could hear people praying and crying. Some folks shouted to the crew.
Still no announcement.
The plane circled again and began its decent.
This time we landed.
The pilot came on and happily said,”sorry folks! Third times the charm.”
Silence.
The yelling didn’t start until we exited.
Jet Blue sent us all an apology and a coupon.
I’m flying Southwest today.

20130911-135652.jpg

9/11 tale

It’s been a crazy few days, buzzing with activity and daily life. School, work, family, love, fights, drama, laughter – the usual.  I do have funny things to tell you – like we finally let my high schooler get a Facebook account, the kids are both back in Sunday school (although technically it’s not on Sundays but logic isn’t involved in faith right?), and we decided to pull our son out of fall ball because our schedules needed a tone down. We’re going on a no-activity diet. Except for piano – which isn’t really an activity – it’s more like torture for them, fun for me. And why shouldn’t I have fun?

And then the weather. It’s been beautiful.  Which only makes anyone in and around NYC think of that day. Everyone’s got a story about that day, even if you were half way around the world, you have a story. Ours is pretty simple. We were living in the city, uptown, working mid-town.  I took a walk that morning in Carl Schulz park, got home, kissed my then 3 year old and went to work. By the time I got there the first tower had been hit.  The next few hours, days, weeks, months were like a surreal blur. We were lucky enough not to lose anyone in our family, although we do know people lost.

One of the clearest memories I have of 9/11 isn’t of that day, but about 3 weeks later. We had finally started planning events again, and travel restrictions for our firm had lifted.  I took a flight out of NYC to Rochester, NY.  It was the first time I flew after the tragedy.  Airports were a very strange place during that time, quieter than usual. Once I boarded and took my seat (window, always) it was a very short flight – maybe an hour.

When we began our landing, the pilot warned of strong winds and that we would probably have a bumpy stop.  But instead he landed and bounced back in the air. No announcement, no nothing. Then another attempted landing and bounce up. By the second time in the air, people were crying and praying. The woman next me, in a suit like me, had grabbed my hand and was sobbing. This was an early morning flight full of professionals that were probably seasoned travelers – not families or leisure flyers.  It was like being in a weird dream.  There were grown men crying. I was crying too – although I can’t tell you why. I wasn’t scared.  Worse things have happened on many of my flights – heavy turbulence, delays, steep drops, etc.

The third time down – the landing stuck. The pilot came out when we got to the gate and he apologized profusely for scaring the cabin and tried to lighten the mood by yelling, “third times the charm!”.  But no response, just a quiet exit out.

I was shaken and thought about canceling my flight back (which was that day) but I shook it off.  That’s basically how I think the whole country felt – emotional and raw but unwilling to change how we lived.

I still have a very hard time watching the unending specials on 9/11. That day and time are so real for me that I don’t need to, and don’t want to, get any more details.  I can’t take any more angles of the towers coming down and ash covered people.  It’s all too much.

This past weekend my daughter volunteered at a local memorial, 18 people were lost from the small town we live in now, which is 90 miles from NYC.  I thought about that day, the days after, and the fact that she was an oblivious, happy, free of sadness 3 year old when it happened.  She had some questions when she came back, and we talked about some details. At 14 I still want her to be unburdened by the enormity of that day, but it’s helped ease the blow to see it through her eyes.