Monday, September 13, 2021
I worked in the World Trade Center up until 9/11. We lived on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, and I was on my way to work when the planes hit. I was never in any danger. My brain had such a hard time processing what I saw that day that I wasn't traumatized by any of it.
I was in the subway when the planes hit. The subway stalled and eventually let us out at Wall Street, a few stops from my usual station. The station was full of people, and I asked someone what was going on. He said "Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center." "That's my building!" I said. I assumed that the planes were small. I was still thinking about the work I had hoped to accomplish that day, and I cursed the MTA for delaying my arrival. I comprehended nothing.
I made it to the street, disoriented, because it wasn't my usual stop. The street was littered with debris. I had worked for a human rights organization that happened to have its offices on Wall Street after my first year of law school. I remember thinking it peculiar that there was so much garbage in the street. I didn't remember it looking that way on a typical workday morning. This was debris from the World Trade Center, but I comprehended nothing.
I asked someone how to get to the World Trade Center from where I was. He pointed to the sky and said "Follow the smoke." I comprehended nothing.
I followed the smoke and made it to my building. With thousands of others, I gawked at the spectacle. My building was on fire. There was a huge hole in it and in the tower next to it. I kid you not. I contemplated still trying to get in to work. In my expert opinion, the situation seemed under control. Somebody had to tell me that they weren't letting people into the building. I decided to go home. I guess I get the day off, I thought. I comprehended nothing.
The subway ride home was long. I ran into a friend from law school whose building, near the WTC, had been evacuated. He had been there when the planes had hit. He saw people jumping from the upper stories of the building. I began to comprehend. It suddenly occurred to me that I needed to get home. My wife was home with our six-week-old daughter. Fortunately, I thought, she would not be watching television. She would be occupied with our daughter.
When I got to the building, our sweet doorman greeted me with relief. He knew where I worked. I ran upstairs to find my anxious wife. Friends had called, and she was in a panic, but now all was well. She told me that the first tower had fallen. All was not entirely well. A friend called. I sat on our couch and watched as my building fell live on television and also out our window.
My law firm heroically moved us to new offices in midtown the following week. We had 1000 employees in that building. Everyone got out. The firm had been in the building during the earlier attack on the World Trace Center. There was an evacuation plan. They executed it and saved lives. One person disappeared, perhaps hit by debris outside of the building.
Associates were packed into offices, but everyone had a chair, a desk, a new computer and a Blackberry. The firm gathered everyone in a hotel ballroom and told us that the firm's most important resources were all gathered in that room. There was not a lot of work to do, so we focused on sharing our stories and enjoying our community.
3000 people died that day as a result of the various terror attacks. The nation galvanized. Our government responded, mostly in ways I did not approve of, but I was in a tiny minority. After we invaded Afghanistan, I remember talking with colleagues. A conservative Persian-American associate was steely in her support for military action. A progressive associate who wanted to switch offices and avoid tall buildings told me he didn't care about collateral damage in Afghanistan. "We need to send a message that if you hit us, we will hit you back much harder." The country united behind a President and a strategy. I voiced my opposition to the war. My conservative colleague told me that she respected my right to my opinion. At the time, I thought that went without saying.
During the peak of the pandemic, more than 3000 Americans died every day of COVID. Even with vaccines, we are still losing that many Americans every second day. We made a lot of sacrifices after 9/11. Today, Americans think it is too much when our government asks us to get a vaccine and put on a mask. I am teaching in a classroom designed to accommodate 70 students but packed with 80. Our state legislature passed a law that my university interprets as prohibiting us from requiring our students to wear masks. The faculty begs students to wear masks. Some of our students have unvaccinated children at home. We ask students to wear masks to protect their classmates and their classmates' loved ones from infection. Some of my students refuse to do so.
Still, I comprehend nothing.