Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stay Safe

I got to Manhattan before sunup this morning as I headed to an early gym class.

It was like any other morning until the bus reached Battery Park and I saw the ring of American flags surrounding “Sphere for Plaza Fountain,” the battered sculpture that somehow survived the collapse of the World Trade Center 11 years ago today.

We rode up Church Street and I saw the police cars and the news vans getting ready for the memorial services.
When we stopped at Rector Street I saw that one of the disembarking passengers was wearing kilts, most likely a police officer or firefighter on his way to join up with one of the honor guards that would be playing today.

I wish I had seen him when I had gotten on the bus. I would’ve gladly shaken his hand.

When I got off at my stop, I said thanks to the bus driver, as I do every day, and he gave me some good advice.

“Stay safe,” he replied.

I was working across the street from the Trade Center that day, just like I do now. And on that day I had gone to the gym, too. But the similarities end there.

My mother was in the hospital on September 11 and she would die there the following July.

My parents’ wedding anniversary was on September 10, although there was no way to celebrate, given my mother’s condition. And on the day of the worst terrorist attack in this nation’s history, my father marked his eightieth birthday. We lost him in January 2007.

The weather was nice today, but nowhere near as beautiful as it was back on 9/11. That’s one of the most bizarre things about that horrible day that still sticks out in my mind. It was warm, like the start of summer instead of the end, and there wasn’t a cloud in the brilliant blue sky.

As I walked to my office after my workout, I saw Senator Chuck Schumer, a man I always admired, crossing the street on his way to Ground Zero.

The ceremonies have toned down a bit over the years, which I suppose is not surprising. People move on and despite all the claims of “never forget,” that’s just what they'll do. They'll forget.

And please understand that I'm not trying to be cynical or disrespectful. I'm just being realistic.

Once inside the office, I heard the bells tolling at St. Paul’s Chapel at 8:46pm, the time the first plane struck the North Tower.

This Of All Days

Eleven years ago at that time I was just about to enter my office building when I heard something streak through the sky, crash into metal and explode. I had no idea what had happened, and how much the world was about to change.

I didn’t know that we were under attack, or that I was about to witness another airliner strike the South Tower a short time later. I had no idea I would be spending the rest of the day struggling through crowds and choking on vile smoke to get back home to Brooklyn.

A short time later this morning we heard the bagpipers playing and I thought of my fellow bus passenger. We looked out the window and saw line of officers moving up Fulton Street.

I went to St. Paul’s at lunch to light a candle for the departed and then I walked down to Liberty Street and tried to find the spot where I was standing when that second plane hit.

There are all sorts of scaffolding and netting there now so it was hard to locate it, but I did my best. I can still remember the sheets of orange flame shooting across the street, the people screaming, and everybody running as fast as they could.

Today whenever I caught myself getting annoyed at something foolish I quickly put a stop to it.

On this of all days, you pull this crap? I asked myself. Are you serious?

I vowed I wouldn’t talk about politics today and I intend to keep my promise.

This is a day of mourning, a day of remembrance. This is a day when you pray for the victims and their families and you thank God you and your loved ones survived.

This is a day when you remember those leaflets that once covered every inch of available space in this city, the ones that bore the names and images of people you knew would never be found.

I could say a lot more about this day and how I feel about the world we now live in. But I think my bus driver said it best this morning so I’ll give him the last word.

Stay safe.


Ron said...

Rob, this post had me in tears.

I feel so emotional reading your words, that all I can say is, thank you.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

One of these days, if you and I should ever get together in person, I would love talk more about your experience that day because I've never known anyone who was actually there when this happened.

Again, beautiful post, buddy.

And you're so right, remembering this day puts our menial annoyances in total perspective, doesn't it?

Walaka said...

I had no idea you had been right there.

I'm not sure you ever knew that
Vera was dying at that same time,
Rob. She was at Norma Jean's house,
having come back from the hospital
for hospice care. I was back in
The City around September 29th or
so, soon enough after that day
that the airports were still
filled with National Guard troops
carrying automatic weapons. I had
a last visit with my mother and
she died on October 13. For that
reason, even more than the
distance (I was living outside of
Portland at the time), 9/11 is a
bit of a blur for me rather than a
flashbulb memory.

Stay safe.

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my post. I would love to talk with you about this in the real world and you can count on that happening, buddy! Take care of yourself and stay safe.

Rob K said...

No, Walter, I had no idea your lost your mother at this time and I am so sorry to hear of this. It was such a bizarre time and losing a loved one in the middle of it just made things even more surreal. Take care.

Anonymous said...

I did the same thing last night - tried to figure out where I was when the first plane hit. I do know exactly where I was - I had my hand on one of the glass doors at the entrance to the WTC mall on the north side of the complex - and the actual spot is inside the construction site, but I was on the same street & found myself trying to figure out where the entrance had been.

Got some nice pictures last night - please visit www.frogma.blogspot.com if you'd like to see them.