Twenty years ago today, I was in our offices in midtown Manhattan. I hesitate to write about my memories of that day, for my story is unremarkable when compared to those who lived and died, loved and lost. My story is of someone on the periphery – who wandered through the city in a state of horror and disbelief, too stunned to cry.
I remember the smell; this massive cloud of ash and dirt consuming the bluest of skies. People hugging each other as they walked to the bridges that would take them closer to their homes. And those who just wandered, unsure where their feet would take them, each step once so assumed, now tentative and aimless. Sirens and silence, silence and sirens.
A woman’s hysterical efforts to reach her daughter at One World Trade, and the way she collapsed when she finally heard her voice. The plans being put in place for me to travel to each of our offices (each one in a building that was considered high risk for future attacks). Retrospectively it seems bizarre that I flew across the US and Europe – a nod to our need to comfort and console. It was part of our firm’s culture back then. And in each city, the empty streets, the unspoken anxiety, the fear and the personalization of loss too large to really comprehend. My son called me when I was in LA – he enlisted. I stopped breathing until he came home. He came home.
(I remember watching the members of the Senate holding hands and singing on the steps of the Capitol. We are terrific when our foes are outside our borders; we can’t seem to get a collective grip when handling our internal threats. We are so reckless with our hubris – damn).
I didn’t lose anyone I knew on September 11th and all those tragic stories are not mine to tell. So many heroes, so many lives, so many loves – and I still listen with a humble reverence as the bell tolls. And I’m embarrassed that I felt like writing all this down.
Haruki Murakami wrote that “Memories warm you up on the inside. But they also tear you apart.”