Monday, September 01, 2008

It’s September and time to remember.

A few notes. 1) The numbers are incorrect. This was written within 2 weeks of the event and remains, as of yet, unedited. Forgive the misinformation in that way. 2) PATH = Port Authority Trans-Hudson and is a train that runs from stops in NJ into NYC and had a terminus at the WTC. 3) At the time I was still employed at the New York Stock Exchange. 4) There are minor plot-points left out purposely to keep this shorter than "War and Peace" but should make relative sense. With that being said. Here is the white meat.

A tragedy has struck. This tragedy has struck in the city of New York, but has had effects all across the nation. It is the greatest disaster we, as Americans, have ever seen on our own soil. On many levels, this event has reshaped our thoughts and views. It has brought the people of the nation together. It has once again made us whole. Strangers are weeping for the losses of others. Thoughts and prayers are being directed at the victims of the tragedy and nameless and faceless heroes who sacrificed their own lives to save the innocent; and to the families of both groups. Everyone has been watching the news. Everyone wants to know what comes next, what do we do now, how do we cope or simply, why. Commentators, field reporters and news anchors all have their own answers and interpretations to these questions, but does anyone really know? Will we ever really know? Despite what the news shows us about our retaliation efforts or political pushes to regain peace and order in the world, there will be things we, as an international community, will not be told. And nobody can tell us how to cope. The magnitude of this event has hit every single person differently. And everyone reacts in his or her own way.

It is painfully obvious that the aforementioned event is the act of terrorism that befell the World Trade Center, as well as Washington D.C., and the United States and the world. Since September 11th, there has been a bombardment of emotions coming from each individual's television or newspaper or radio. Students, not unlike myself, have written about it. It has become nearly the only topic around the water cooler at the office. Traveling through a shocked and changed Manhattan, conversations are overheard on every street corner, bus and subway train.

Structures have fallen victim to this, but structures can be rebuilt. Lives have fallen to this, but lives cannot be rebuilt. A number tall enough to reach the heavens of 6,000 men and women were taken from us by an act of hate. Twice that number of children is left with one parent or has been orphaned. Commuting to work has been re-routed and some people, although alive, are unemployed. It is not something that can be avoided nor hid from. It will not just "blow over." Many people who live outside the confines of Manhattan are afraid to return. One month ago that phobia would have been laughed at or criticized; now it is shared by many.

These are all things that New Yorkers and Americans have thought about in the days following September 11th. These are things that fall on macro-sociological level. As someone who works in lower Manhattan, few blocks from "Ground Zero," I have bore witness to many more micro-sociological events. I am a World Trade Center survivor. Monday morning, September 10th at 8:45 the PATH train emptied onto the platform, four levels below the street. Up the stairs to the newspaper stand for the daily dose from a crisp New York Times. Another flight of stairs and an escalator. Past all the shops; Warner Brothers, Bath and Body Works where the scent reminds me of the gifts I had purchased there last holiday season, New Balance sneaker shop and finally Au Bon Pain, the last stop before the outside world. Large black coffee and a warm bagel. A final set of stairs and double doors lead to the corner of Liberty Street and Church Street. A cigarette is lit and the home stretch to place of business is begun. All around, men and women going through each of his and her own routine to begin the day; each unknowingly making the trip for the last time.

The very next day my commute was delayed due to highway traffic and my life was spared. From Jersey City, I watched as a second jetliner crashed into the tower. Hurriedly, we all switched to an uptown PATH train and impatiently awaited our arrival into Manhattan. When the train emptied this time, it wasn't the same. A new place and a new frame of mind. No longer was it the calm, well-planned path to the final destination. Confusion all about; and people walked in a frenzy to make sense of everything. We were almost running. All at once the crowd turned the corner and stopped as if all were halted by an outside force. We looked up to see the two towers burning. They were cultural icons. They were representatives of the strength of the city. Their height marked our height of success in a place of business. And there they stood, burning, weakening, and waiting to die. Confusion, as well as habit to make your way to work amidst this mess and pure morbid curiosity brought the crowd closer; too close. As we stood just a few blocks away, watching the towers burning, the unthinkable happened. A noise unlike any other I have heard, followed by the collapse of the first tower. We ran. Everyone ran in different directions. Some of us were silent, some of us were screaming. None of us knew what to think about this. The only thought was to get away from there as quickly as possible.

At some point, the dust and debris stopped chasing me. I was in a safe place. Countless cell phones were quickly whipped from their holsters like an old west cowboy draws his gun. It was reaction to call everyone. Who is ok? Who needs to know that I am ok? "My call won't go through. Excuse me sir; may I use your phone? Mine seems to be unavailable." "I can't make any calls either," he replies. Manhattan's largest signal tower had just fallen. A native New Yorker, I was lost in the confusion and shock. Where do I go and how do I get there? I needed to be off of the island. On every street corner was the news blasting from car stereos. On every street corner more news about another attack, some of which proved to be false. Armageddon was a word that was being used over and over.

All mass transportation onto or off of the island was suspended. So I walked to Brooklyn - four hours later, arriving at my grandmother's house and I recounted the events to her. I was still unaccounted for with my employer and most of my family, but phones weren't working. I spent the night there – awake. The vision of what I saw and experienced replaying in my head like a broken record.

Wednesday, September 12th I decided it was time to venture home. Gathering up my last bit of courage, I sat on a train that brought me back to the place that I had spent so much time trying to get away from just 24 hours earlier. I continued my journey and made my way home. My family anxiously awaited my arrival home. All knew I was ok by then, but not satisfied until I had proved it by appearing in the flesh. Again, I recounted the horrific chain of events that led me there. With my head in my hands, I struggled to regain my composure. I did not know that the news I was about to receive would undo all my efforts. "Jason," softly spoke my mother. "There is no better or worse time to tell you this, so I'll just say it. Your uncle is among the missing." Thomas Sabella – uncle, brother, son, father… firefighter.

A brave man waiting out the last fifteen minutes of his shift to go home and see his family when the call came and the bell rang. There was an emergency at the World Trade Center and all New York City Firefighters were to respond. He never came home. Hope slipped away slowly at first but more quickly with each passing day. Many firemen were lost that day. While the average person was getting away from the troubled area as quickly as possible, these men were heading towards it. They brought out scores of people and went back for more. Ladder Company 13 was in the second tower to fall. My uncle led the team back in to rescue more people and the first tower fell. An authority figure from outside screamed into a radio, "The other tower fell. The one you're in might too. Get out of there now!" It was their chance to save their own lives. The response came back from inside, "There's more people in here. I'm not leaving." The second tower fell. He had spoken his last words. They were words of courage and bravery. Traits that we all have, but to a level that most will never know.

Due to the safety restrictions of the police and fire departments, my office was one of the many that remained close all that week and most of the next. Then came the time to return to work. The routine was gone. No more would that fresh copy of The New York Times be available. The hot coffee and warm bagel would have to be purchased some place else. The morning walk with all the familiar places and faces was gone. A map would have to be used to find the best route. Butterflies in the stomach made it feel like the first day at a new job. Up the steps from the subway that has become my new route into the air of downtown. I couldn't breathe. The air was thick and smelled like burning rubber. Ash and little pieces of debris were floating around. I look quickly to my right and see the plume of smoke traveling straight up in to the air. It made a shape of a tower, almost to mock the magnificent structure that once stood. I hear the sounds of the city but they're all different. No more talking amongst the commuters. No more discussions about the hot stock to buy. The sound… was silence.

Once again, in the same state of shock as I was in on the infamous Tuesday morning, I made my way through the streets to my office. Replacing the businessmen such as myself were Construction workers, Police officers and men of the National Guard. The faces on the people I passed were all the same. What was this place? The New York Stock Exchange now laid ahead; a familiar sight. For two years I rode the elevators of that building to and from my daily tasks. It looked unchanged and unaffected by this. A majestic building standing proud and ready to handle the pressure it would soon be under. Two forms of ID were necessary to enter Broad Street and more security checkpoints inside. The same security guards that waved good morning to me countless times now asked to see identification and "Please, sir, step through the metal detector." Although initially offended, I complied. Nobody knew whom to trust. I step through the doors and like a celebrity in front of the media; colleagues surround me. They all heard about the passing of my uncle and all wished to extend their condolences. I must go on with my day. There is a job that needs to get done. I have duties to perform. It was business as usual within the confines of the building and the horror was almost forgotten. I'm looking out my window and see a rooftop parking lot. There were only about nine cars compared to the dozens normally. Each of the cars was covered in dust. They hadn't been moved since the day the terror struck. Their owners must have perished. A group of people approach one car with keys and open all doors and the trunk. They were cleaning out the personal effects of the owner; maybe a parent, child, sibling, or spouse. It was all real again.

These events are now over. We have all adjusted our schedules and commutes and begun to carry on with our daily routines. Everyone has exchanged stories about where they were the day the trade center fell. The invasion of Normandy, dropping the atomic bomb, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the day the World Trade Center fell. Everyone who saw these days will remember where he or she was. In addition to remembering where I was, I will remember where Thomas Sabella was. He was running into a dangerous situation with men just like him for innocent people. The FDNY, the NYPD, and EMS are the true heroes of the world. All of the personalization has been forgotten though and we have embarked on a journey of retribution as a nation. It is time for recuperation. Memorials have been had for these men and women, but it's not enough. True remembrance should come through us trying to be like them. Help someone; go out of the way for someone. We have forgotten about race, color, religion, creed, or sexual orientation since September 11th. We are Americans. We have united and the attackers have failed in their mission to destroy and demoralize us. We have physical damage, but that can be repaired.

We have lost lives, but to live out the rest of our lives, the way the heroes did will keep them alive forever. Coming to that realization allows me to sleep again. The nation has a mission to make it known that we will stand proud and the government will handle the way in which we react. As individuals, we have our own mission. We have to be the best people we can and stick to our convictions of helping others and ignoring colors. Each one of us is colored – red, white and blue.

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