Like many of you I have been irrevocably changed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the horrific events that unfolded in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania and the loss of some three thousand innocent lives. As the ten year milestone approaches we might well say, ‘before this experience I was one way; after 911 I’ve become someone else.’
We can certainly recall the horror of watching television that morning and seeing the unthinkable events unfold. The questions on everyone’s mind were, who was responsible, what next and, where next?
I recently asked my sister, Shirley Greaves Robinson, who still lives in New York City, to recount her recollection of that horrendous day. She still gives thanks to God for keeping her from literally being in the eye of the storm. She could have been center stage that fateful morning. Her office was within walking distance of the World Trade Center. Each morning she would invariably meet her girlfriend to shop in the twin towers stores before work. She should have been there that morning except that her schedule had changed. On the morning of September 11, 2011 she had begun the first day of an internship program away from Ground Zero.
So instead of being at the twin towers and witnessing the carnage firsthand or, worse yet, becoming a potential victim, fate had sent her that morning to Brooklyn.
She thought it was a cruel joke when someone said that the twin towers had been attacked. Soon, like all of us, she watched television in shock and disbelief as the unbelievable events unfolded and as the towers came crashing down. She describes the scene as one of ‘chaos and confusion; emotional and heartrending.’ Fear of the unknown was uppermost in her mind, mixed with dread that her girlfriend may have been at the towers when the attacks occurred. Confusion reigned as cell phone service died and long lines materialized for the few available public phones. Those phones became their lifeline as they reached out to family and friends to reassure themselves that their world was still intact.
Yet, as Shirley replays the events of that morning, her mind continues to reel with the knowledge that, “I could have been in there with those people if I hadn’t started my internship that day. I give thanks to God for that.”
For her and millions of others that day, the next challenge was to find a way home since the subways were silent and transportation was at a standstill. For several hours she walked barefoot towards home trying to escape the confusion, trying to get to a predetermined meeting place so she could assure her husband, Alton that she was all right.
As she describes it, a year later when the internship for her Master’s degree ended she returned to work in the Manhattan office she had been in prior to 911. Even after a year she described the ‘smell of death’ that still permeated the neighborhood and the discomfort of inhaling the foul air. Yet in the back of her mind she continued and still continues to give thanks to God for the decisions that kept her from the twin towers that day. We, her family, echo that sentiment!
How has 911 affected you? Have you changed and if so, has it been for the better? Certainly anyone who has visited New York City in the last ten years has found the City to be a kinder, gentler place.We have all learned so many lessons in the last ten years. What have you learned? Here is my list of the ten important things I’ve learned post 911:
1. Treasure those you love and tell them often how much they mean to you.
2. Get in touch with friends and family you’ve lost touch with over the years
3. Live life to the fullest
4. Follow your passion and live life on your terms
5. Take that dream vacation you’ve been putting off
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff
7. Love with all of your might
8. Help someone else along the way
9. One discreet act can change the course of your life
10. Believe in God as if there’s no tomorrow
What is your list of takeaways from the 911 tragedies? Leave your comments in the comment section below.