Whenever I think of that terrible day, two things immediately come to mind.
First, I remember how it took the better part of the day until I fully grasped the depth of the horror that had occurred.
And the second thing I remember is: the weather.
This may seem odd.
But if you were in NYC on that day, then you know exactly what I am talking about.
On Monday, September 10, it had rained. An awful, gray, chilly, wet, dreary day.
But on Tuesday, the city seemed transformed. The sky – a stunning blue. A gentle, lovely day.
I remember that as I left the house that morning, I felt embraced by the warmth of the sun. I remember smiling. This was going to be a very good day.
At the time, I was working several miles from our home in Queens, in a psychiatric unit of a local hospital. And in the evenings, my private practice, in Manhattan. My husband worked in the computer department of a company in the World Financial Center.
Right across the street from the World Trade Center.
On some days, he took the subway to work. On other days, especially in good weather, he took the Express bus to lower Manhattan.
Every day, he walked across the World Trade Center plaza to get to work.
That morning, he decided to take the bus.
I drove him to the stop, and we saw the bus arrive. He opened the car door, delighted that he would be on time for an early meeting.
But the bus suddenly drove off.
We both gasped.
I offered to drive him to a subway stop. But he did not want me to be late for work. And anyway, another bus was due in twenty minutes.
That morning in the psych unit, I remember standing at the nurses’ station, when the pharmacy clerk walked in.
“Did you hear?” he said. “A plane hit the World Trade Center.”
“Is that a joke?” I asked. I thought maybe it was the opening line of a weird joke; “Hey! Did you hear the one about the plane hitting the WTC?”
“It’s not a joke! Go to the Day Room and turn on the TV”
I watched the TV screen for several minutes, looking at the black smoke and damaged floors of the WTC. “Terrible,” I thought. Probably a small plane.
I went back to my office, to catch up on paperwork.
The phone rang. It was my husband.
“Something is going on here. I can’t talk for long. Cell phones aren’t working, a storekeeper is letting people use his land line.”
I asked him about his meeting. He said he saw people run out of the World Financial Center, and he thought it was best to take the train home. He promised to call me when he got home.
Our daughters and son called, and I assured them that everything was ok.
A staff member walked into my office. “You’d better go to the Day Room. You gotta see this.”
I followed him, but when I saw the TV screen, I thought, “haven’t I already seen this, the burning floors of the WTC?” I watched the video of the plane fly into the building, wondering how they had gotten that video. I was shocked to hear that a second plane had hit the other tower.
Stunned, I went back to my office.
Later, another staff member walked in. He had a strange look on his face. He told me that the World Trade Center had just fallen.
I remember thinking, “What does that mean? How can a building ‘fall’ ?
Our son called again. He sounded worried. He had just heard that the subway system had been totally shut down.
Now I was alarmed. It had been over an hour since my husband had called. And his subway stop was the World Trade Center, right under the buildings. If one of the towers “fell,” did that mean he was trapped underneath?
I sat at my desk for three hours, staring at the phone.
And praying. Psalm 23 seemed to take on a new meaning that day.
Sometime after 1 p.m., my husband called. He had just gotten home.
On the bus that morning, a few blocks from the World Trade Center, a woman sitting in the front of the bus had screamed: “OMG! The WTC is on fire!”
My husband, thinking that traffic would halt when fire trucks arrived, asked the bus driver to let him off.
It was very quiet, he recalled, and he was two blocks away from the WTC, when suddenly, he heard a noise unlike any other.
He heard the second plane hit.
And then, a noise that sounded like falling metal.
(Every night, for about a month afterwards, he “heard” the noise as he tried to fall asleep. I once asked him what the explosion had sounded like. “Judgment Day,” he answered.)
He had followed the crowd for ten blocks, and entered the subway there. While waiting for the train, someone ran into the station, shouting, “I saw people jumping out of the World Trade Center!” Then, the train platform shook violently. Another man ran into the station, shouting that the World Trade Center had just fallen.
When the train arrived at the first stop in Queens, police were everywhere, ordering everyone off the train and out of the station.
Miles from home, and in an industrial neighborhood, he had no choice but to walk home.
After a while, he saw an off-duty cab. He offered the driver $20 to take him home. The driver said he was “stuck” in Queens, as all the bridges and tunnels to Manhattan had been closed.
We later learned that a woman, walking across the WTC plaza when the first plane hit, had been badly burned by falling jet fuel. That was the time my husband would have crossed the plaza, had he caught the first bus.
There were so many stories that emerged in the aftermath of the grief and horror of that day. I want to share a few of them with you:
A woman in my neighborhood, a Holocaust survivor, lost her son that day. She could not be consoled. She cried, “My parents were murdered in Dachau, and they have no graves.” Was this, she asked, also to be the fate of her son?
A week after the attack, I got into the elevator at work, and, as the door closed, a nurse began sobbing.
She had been sitting at the nurses’ station, when the phone rang. A woman stated that her sister had worked at the World Trade Center and was now missing. Perhaps her sister was a patient in her unit? Could she please check the patient list?
“Ma’am,” the nurse responded, “this is a pediatric unit.”
“You don’t understand,” said the woman. “I’ve been calling hospitals all week. Your number is the last one on my list.”
They both cried.
One of the doormen of my office building in Manhattan, Carlos, lost his father. He had worked in the Windows on the World Restaurant, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center.
About two months later, the other doorman told me that Carlos’s father had been “found,” and Carlos had accompanied his father’s body for burial in Guatemala.
How was it possible, I asked, for his father’s body to remain intact?
The doorman looked away as he answered.
“Well… they didn’t find the whole body. Just his head… and an arm.”
And finally, this:
A poor, elderly woman took the bus one day, to pay some bills. She was carrying cash in her handbag, and several other packages.
When she got off the bus, she realized, to her dismay, that she had left her handbag on the bus.
She went home, distraught. What was she going to do now?
Then she received a phone call. A man had found her handbag on the bus. After work, he and his wife would return her bag.
In the evening, she opened the door, and the man and his wife, an African-American couple, handed the bag back to her. She opened the bag. The cash had been returned as well.
“I’m so grateful to you,” she said. “I want to give you a reward.”
The man looked at his wife. The apartment was threadbare. What could she possibly give them?
The man asked her, “I saw a mezuzah on the doorpost of the entrance to your apartment. Are you Jewish?”
Yes, she was.
“Well,” said the man, “then, as my reward, I want a blessing from you.”
“A blessing?” “I don’t understand.”
“We are Christians,” he explained, “and the Bible tells us that God said to Abraham: ‘And I will bless those that bless you and curse the one who curses you.’ As a Jew, you are a descendant of Abraham. So, I want you to give me a blessing.”
The woman was taken aback. Yes, she was Jewish, but not observant. And, the mezuzah had been placed there by a previous tenant. Besides, she did not know any blessings.
“Well,” said the man, “I’m sure you can think of something.”
And then, she did remember a blessing, something from her childhood.
“May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob keep you from harm.”
On the way home, the couple stopped at a local restaurant.
But the man must have eaten some bad food, because he awoke early the next morning, doubled over with stomach cramps.
“I can’t go to work like this,” he told his wife. “What a disaster. I have a very important breakfast meeting today.”
“Nice ‘blessing’ you got from that woman, huh?” his wife laughed.
That was the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The breakfast meeting was scheduled for 8 a.m. on the 107th floor of the Windows on the World Restaurant at the World Trade Center.
In the spirit of this last story:
May God bless Tammy with continued good health, much happiness, and great success in all her work.
May God also bless all the TAMS, and all those who support Tammy in her endeavors.
And may God bless the U.S.A.