Twenty Years On: Reflecting On 9/11
On September 11, 2001 – the day known to the world as 9/11 – I was a year into my new life in Canada. My office in the west end of Toronto had a perfect view of the Toronto skyline, including the distinctive CN Tower, then the tallest free-standing structure in the world.
About an hour after I got to work that day, I got myself a cup of coffee and was walking back to my desk. A colleague stopped me and handed me a printout from the CNN website. It showed a picture of the World Trade Center’s North Tower with smoke billowing from the top half. My immediate reaction was that this must be a Photoshop hoax. When I realized that it was a legitimate photograph, I thought the same thing as everyone else: that a freakish and tragic accident had occurred.
As I scrutinized the picture, I heard a shout coming from the direction of the conference room. Someone had been able to get the temperamental TV to work, and we all spilled into the room just in time to see live footage of the plane hitting the South Tower. An hour later, we were still sitting in the conference room. We were incapable of speech; someone muted the sound on the TV because the frantic commentary of chaos was violating the silence that we all needed.
I don’t think anyone moved for about ten minutes. Eventually, someone at the back of the room whispered, “Oh my God.” That utterance was a catalyst for everyone to rush to their phones to call family members, pausing on the way past the window to see if the CN Tower was still there.
There was no question of any work getting done that day. We all spent the day on the phone, contacting loved ones south of the border to find out who was alive and who wasn’t. My parents called from South Africa, unashamedly relieved to hear my voice. Toronto is not that far from New York, especially to people watching the chaos unfold from the other side of the world.
After talking to my parents, I frantically tried to get in touch with my friends in New York City. By late afternoon, there were two people I had not been able to reach – Luisa and Jason. I went to bed that night not knowing whether they were alive or dead. I didn’t sleep. I suspect that most people didn’t that night.
Luisa’s husband emailed me early the following morning. As soon as the South Tower had been hit, she and her coworkers had been evacuated from their office a block away to some hall somewhere. Phone signals were jammed: for several hours, Luisa’s husband did not know whether she had been buried in the rubble of collapsing towers. It was almost midnight by the time she got home, traumatized but alive.
But what had become of Jason? At lunchtime on September 12th, I spoke to a mutual friend, Mark, who had commuted to work with him the previous morning. Jason had dropped his dog off at the vet on his way to work, so he was late. The two friends had gotten off the subway at the same stop, and then they had gone into a Starbucks for their morning coffee. With coffee in hand, Jason had gone into the North Tower, waving goodbye to Mark, who had to go a few blocks further. The time was about 8:35 a.m.
Eleven minutes later, the North Tower was hit. I tried to convince Mark that Jason could have left the building in those ten minutes. Mark said it was unlikely. Jason had said something about a 9:00 meeting for which he had not prepared. He would have been sipping his coffee and working on reports at his desk, which was right in the flight path of a hijacked plane.
I said to Mark, “I hope Jason got to finish his coffee.” People say the oddest things in times of stress.
Now, twenty years later, I reflect on that day along with the rest of the world. I think of Jason and hope he died instantly, with no pain or stress. I look at my two children, neither of whom was alive on 9/11, one of whom is on the cusp of becoming an adult, and I wonder what kind of world their children will live in. I look at the world around me – at the discrimination and violence that almost seem to have become normalized – and I wonder if we have really learned anything.
Poignantly, I wonder what became of Jason’s dog, the one he dropped off at the vet on that terrible morning. The dog is certainly not alive anymore, but I hope it found a new home, and perhaps helped some family get through the unspeakable collective grief from 9/11.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle.