Reflections of 9/11/01
Daniel Yucht: 9/14/01
I’m not sure where to begin… The last four days have been surreal, ghastly, remarkable, horrible, and incomprehensible.
It’s now September 14th, and my co-workers and I sit in our office in stunned silence. Today is the first day we have been back to work since the tragedy that befell The World Trade Centers, The Financial District, Downtown, all of New York City, America, and the entire world last Tuesday. Stunned silence is the only way to describe the state that New York City has been in. What do you say? What can any of us truely comprehend?
My office is located on Elizabeth St., just south of Houston St.. For those of you reading this who are not familiar with New York City, It’s in SoHo - about a half mile (As the crow flies) for where the World Trade Centers stood, four days ago. My office was far enough away to not be in any sort of immediate danger, but close enough for me to hear and feel the first impacts and explosions, and to see the horrors from our rooftop.
The events were, to me, and a lot of my friends, a long line of inconceivable acts.
An airplane Hit the World Trade Center?!?! Inconceivable!
TWO airplanes have flow INTO BOTH World Trade Centers towers! IMPOSSIBLE!
The Towers themselves are on FIRE?!?! That Can’t Happen!
The South Tower COLLAPSED!! I can’t believe it! There’s No way the North tower will fall.
The North Tower Collapsed! It can’t be!
I arrived at my job in SoHo at 8:15am. By the time I checked the CNN WebPages, the first plane had hit. (I must have heard the explosion and brushed it off as something out on the street.) From then on I, and the other engineers here, were either glued to the TV and CNN, or we were up on our rooftop, watching the horrible events unfold. I’m not proud to say that I have a whole role of film taken of the towers as they burned and fell. Most of the photos show the two towers burning. At this point I still held the thought in my mind that the fires would be put out and that that would be the end of it. Then the first tower fell. I didn’t actually see it, but we were all silent in our surprise…...“Did it really collapse?” we asked each other. The dust cloud was as tall as the remaining tower. We held on to some hope that the south tower was just obscured by the dust…..that wasn’t the case. As the dust cleared and settled - we looked at each other stunned. There was no tower there!
A half hour later I, and one other colleague, remained on the rooftop. The rest of my coworkers had gone back inside to see the news of the Pentagon attack and had assumed that the 2n’d tower would stand. I actually said to my friend “You’ll be able to tell your grandchildren that you remember when there were TWO World Trade Centers.” 10 seconds later, the 2nd tower collapsed right in front of my eyes. I now know the meaning of the phrase “The image is burned into my memory.” An hour prior, such and event was…. inconceivable.
I left work around 3:00 that afternoon. What was the point of staying there? We were all just watching CNN. I walked north to Houston St., then around Greenwich Village. The only way to describe the whole city….Stunned Silence. Almost no traffic on the streets, and anyone who was out walking around was walking around in a daze. No one spoke, and if they did they did not speak loudly. It was eerie. Everything was eerie. And the eeriest thing was that when you looked downtown, all you saw was smoke, and no towers. No matter how hard or how long you looked, there were no World Trade Centers. ‘Unsettling’ does not begin to describe the feeling.
For people who are not from New York. You may have a hard time imagining the World Trade Centers. These Building were ....in a word….MASSIVE. Every New Yorker subconsciously thought “What could possible damage THEM?!?! ” Each was a football field long on a side, over 100 floors high, Steel Girders supporting them, They’d already shrugged off one bombing. “Something hurt the Towers? Never.” Every New Yorker, in some way anchors their images of our city to these two structures. Their sheer size, and simple form, seemed to anchor the tip of Manhattan Island in place. To people of my generation, there was never a time without the Twin Towers. They were stability. Locating where the Towers were was how one oriented oneself on the island of Manhattan. “Where’s South? Look for the towers.” To stand in the triangle of Jefferson Market at Eight St. and Sixth Ave, look south,and NOT see the towers was rattling to my psyche….strange..Surreal. To me it was as if the island had been set adrift, left unstable. It still feels that way
I spent the rest of the night walking around the city and all you heard was….stunned silence. No one really talked. What was there to say?
The inconceivable happened. Now came the questions from all around us. “Why weren’t those planes stopped when they turned off their flight plans and towards Manhattan?” “After the first plane hit, why wasn’t the second one stopped?” “Why were the hijackers allowed on to the planes with Knives large enough to hold people hostage and kill them?” “How come none of the US’s infamous intelligence agencies picked this up? “Why did the buildings fall?” ” Why…..Why…...why?????”
The only answer that can be said to any of these questions is simply…“We Didn’t Know.” To citizens in the US, such an act of pure hatred, malice, and destruction was unknown to us on our own soil. Before 8:30am Tuesday, September 12th, 2001 Such an act of….of…...Terrorism…on US soil was INCONCEIVABLE to us, as a people. We, as a society, felt secure from such a threat. I doubt we will ever feel so secure again. A quote that I read at the memorial being spontaneously erected in Union Square says it all:
“Time is measured in terms of events, not hours. How long ago, innocent Monday.” (author unknown)
Just about everyone I know of has checked with all their family and friends in New York, and (I thank some divine entity for this) all of my friends have survived physically unscathed from the explosions, debris, and collapses. Unfortunately, when I expanded my circle of friends to the 2nd degree (Friends of Friends) I began to find a lot of injuries and unfortunately ..missing people. I don’t think a single New Yorker escaped Tuesday unscathed in some way, either mentally or physically. My friends from New York will understand this, but my friends elsewhere need to know…..Who in New York DOESN’T know someone that works downtown in the financial district?!?!
I have already heard dozens of stories of luck, near misses, and lucky coincidences of people that would have, should have, or could have been right there at ‘Ground-Zero’. Untold numbers were simply lucky. For some odd reason they weren’t THERE when they feel they might have been.
Other untold numbers were saved by the work of, until now forgotten, Civil engineers. Those who’s designs allowed the Twin Towers to remain standing for a FULL HOUR after the planes hit, allowing people to escape. (A silent…no, a LOUD, thanks should go to them. 99% of the buildings in this country would have collapsed immediately if a jet-liner had crashed into them).
Separately, I’ve held two friends in my arms. Each received news of one of their friend’s death. This is being repeated around the city and around the country thousands of times over. Another quote from Union Square brought the tragedy more into focus for me:
“4763 People ‘Missing.’ 4763 is a number the human mind can not comprehend. Can it comprehend 4763 wives, husbands, children, fathers, aunts, mothers, brothers, .....friends?” (author unknown)
What is being said on the News reports about New Yorkers pulling together is true. But I wouldn’t say we’re joyous in the teamwork. It is as if there is and unspoken agreement to help in anyway possible - but it remains silent and unspoken. Everyone is giving of themselves. whether it’s blood, or supplies or, a hand where necessary, every civilian wants to help. In a way, everyone here wants to help out those that are here to help us….the rescue workers, the Police, the Firefighters, and the Volunteer EMTs.
Within moments of the first plane hitting the North Tower, the only sound in Manhattan was that of emergency sirens heading south. Hundreds of the finest rushing to the one place that thousands were now rushing to escape from. To me, from now on, nothing else will define bravery. Later on that day I saw some of the workers driving north to St. Vincent’s hospital. Grown men covered in dust with the only clean spots on their faces the tracks coming from their eyes down their cheeks…..their tears.
Two days later, Thursday, I happened to meet three volunteer rescue workers who were on their way BACK into the collapse site to continue the work. They were exhausted, even after having spent several hours resting up. Yet they were going back in. The most vocal of the threesome was answering questions (two young men and a young woman from Piscataway NJ, whom I will remember always) . He told those of us there that ‘Ground-Zero’ was “Eight Thousand times worse then anything seen on TV.” He continued on that all the workers were stunned and numbed by the horrors at the site. He said that among all the workers their was an unspoken anger among them about this. His words seethed with anger even through his exhaustion.
When another bystander, such as I, congratulated him and his friends on their work and efforts, and told him that we were all behind him, This young rescue worker simply replied “It’s our job. Going in there is what we came here to do. Lat night I watched my uncle die at NYU medical center. He was one of the first EMT’s on the scene. At least they got him out. At least he died in a hospital, with family. Now I’m going back in. What else can I do?”
What do you say to That??? to a 20 year old who has witnessed such things in the span of 2 days? What do you say?
You say nothing…..but you help out wherever you can. That is what all of New York has done. That is the feeling in this city. But it is a feeling felt in…......... stunned silence.
I won’t say what my views are on retaliation…...but for those of you who know me, know I’ve never been big on pacifism or talking something to death. But, now I’m torn between retaliation and healing.
I’ll close my (Lengthy) reflections with two final quotes from the Memorial at Union Square.
“How many of us have suffered, and will suffer, at the hands of such Animals?!?!? How many will not even be lucky enough to die among family and friends, but rather in a fire set by madmen!?!?!”
“September 11th, 2001: A day that taught us ‘Everybody Hurts;’ .......and that ‘it will take all of us to Heal’”
Be Well. Be Safe. Hug the ones you love.