The Weight of a Single Minute: Tuesday's Child

Part of me wants the day to come and go without incident. Wake up and let it be just another day like the ones before it. But eleven fourteen years ago just another day changed the course of history. And, it's still too soon to know where it will leave us, but my heart goes out to those people I have met along the way and those I haven't who lost something they can never get back on September 11th.

It was a Tuesday, I was a senior in high school on my way to homeroom. I heard some voices in the hallway talking about the twin towers, but I wasn't paying attention to what they were saying. It was third-period economics, just hanging out, business as usual. And, then the alarm went off and we thought it was a fire drill. So we grabbed our stuff and sifted through the stairwell to the lawn. And the alarm just kept ringing. Ten minutes went by and we started to look at each other because we knew it wasn't a fire drill. That's when someone started talking about the buildings collapsing, predicting the war that was about to happen. I heard an administrator telling someone, "Get in your car NOW and leave."  So we did.

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I remember too, what it felt like coming home to that coverage on every channel like the world was unraveling in very slow motion. The fate of the New York skyline was wrapped around everyone's heart as the clock was ticking by in a motionless fashion. I could feel the world changing.

The weight of a single minute seems to resonate long after the initial shock has worn its unwelcome.

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As I traveled I found more and more indifference to the terrorist attack on September 11th. The further I got geographically from New York, the less people seemed to care, especially where my generation was concerned. But, many times the people with a little more time on their hands, the ones who had seen other wars come and go would ask me about it as soon as they found out I was from New York. In five minutes of conversation they would ask my name, my age what I went to school for and whether or not I knew anyone involved in September 11.

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"Yes," I would tell them. "I was involved. We all were."

 

I remember school trips down to NYC to visit the museums and the Statue of Liberty where we'd do some bus-window sightseeing. The parents would say, 'Look over there - the twin towers!' at the modern marvel and capacity of our economy.

And even when I was little I knew they were something special. But, even more than the history we may have had with those buildings, it is the heaviness of that day that lingers. It seemed like no one knew what was going to happen. That night I laid in bed listening to the sounds of helicopters hovering like a search was happening in my back yard. Bear Mountain was closed to civilians and special service enforcement were stationed at the top, watching, waiting, strategizing. 

 

Conversations about the nearby nuclear power plant Indian Point were on-going. One of my teachers took it upon himself to inform us that the planes actually flew over Indian Point. Had they chosen it as their target it would've taken seven seconds for that nuclear reaction to vaporize everyone within 100 miles. "Vaporized at your desk," he shouted. Just seeing the buildings fall to the ground was devastating. Imagining what was happening inside there to those people, someone who was trying to save someone else in the midst of what must have been absolute chaos, come crashing down, ending that way. That's not an easy realization and it left a lot of uncertainty in the hours and days that follow. If that could happen today what could happen tomorrow? It seemed like anything.

 

Then, stories unraveled about the neighbors who never came home. I found out my pregnant cousin had narrowly escaped from the 45th floor. A firefighter was trapped inside, a local father of two. I saw the faces in the schoolyard that day, children desperate to reach their parents in the city. But, cell phones weren't working. And no one was getting over the bridge.

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Stories surfaced. Body counts rose. Radio reported around the clock with updates. People (emergency services) came in from all over the country to help sort through the aftermath. Billowing smoke hovered over the NYC skyline - a signal of tragedy exploding into the sky, an homage to many unsung heroes from that day. A reminder of the kids whose parents never came home, who will cling forever - especially today- to an un-retractable loss. 

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Everything shifted. The history of our generation was completely re-routed. And it's not just that I won't ever forget, or that we should relive the intensity in a sad way forever. It's more that everyone needs to know the impact of that day on the world stage. What it meant to one person (someone who saw it with their own eyes) -  if you didn't -  in order to understand that one loss was everyone's loss. Because we exist as a community.

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Remember what it was like when everyone banded together under the red white and blue of American patriotism? Community. It felt good to see the President come on TV and solemnly swear to right the atrocities and identify the enemy, 'one nation under god'.

I went down one day a month or so later after the winds of change had calmed a little. After the efforts to recover missing persons had slowed. And I have memories of the smoldering ashes blowing through the air, even still, because it was just that immense. I saw grown men making their way down wall street in their business suits, turning away from the barricades with tears in their eyes, like a part of them was destroyed. It was quiet everywhere, people walked with their heads down in solemn remembrance.

And all the nearby buildings with their windows blown out. Every single one, except for the church - St. Paul's - right smack in the middle of it all. I'll never forget that.

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I saw the firehouse windows covered in handwritten letters with crayon messages from four and five-year-old children asking, Daddy where are you? Please come home. Block after block after window after letter. It seemed like that city would never recover. Any other city might not have. But we're talking about the greatest city in the world.

I was 17 then. Speculation over going to war was a hot topic; the reality of the situation was we were going. At the time it was true that could mean all of us.

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Instead, many people took it upon themselves to sign up to fight. They are police officers in the city who have seen first hand what can happen and choose to put themselves in the way of that chance. They are reservists who give up months and years away from their families and friends to serve a country whose foundation moves them into an act of selflessness and purpose. They are Marines and Special Service across enemy lines tonight, sleeping in tents, Army and Navy and Coastguard, protecting the rights of our civilization post 911. American soliders fighting day in and night out for the reinstatement or world order.

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Three generations from now our memories will be the window into what happened that day.  If we're going to defend our place in this world, we can never ever let ourselves forget.

 

* blog submission entitled "the weight of a single minute: Tuesday's child. a recollection."

Cover Photo Washingtonville, NY Memorial