Sunday, September 11, 2011

365 Project - Day 254 - "Remembering"

September 11, 2011 - "Remembering"

It was a Tuesday morning... and Holly and I were running a bit late. It was already getting close to 9am... and Caitlynn needed to be at her school in New York in about half an hour. We rushed out of the house... loaded the kids in the car - and began our long highway trip - just hoping that there wouldn't be traffic and we'd somehow make it in time. Caitlynn... then just 3 years old... was playing games with Brandon, who was only 4 months old - in the back seat. Holly and I - with cups of coffee in hand - listened to "Curtis and Kuby" on WABC talk radio, as always... and chatted about nothing in particular.

Moments later the morning show was interrupted with a report that an airplane had just hit the World Trade Center in New York City. No one thought much of it at first... after all, this wasn't the first time a plane had hit a skyscraper in New York City. Then again... no one knew that it was a major airline... they thought, perhaps - it was some sort of a small plane. They apologized for not having more information... and promised to keep us updated on any developments.

Only a brief moment went by before the report came in that it was, indeed - a major passenger airliner... and that survivors were highly unlikely. Curtis and Kuby immediately switched their program focus - and started to report on the news and debate on the subject. Curtis Sliwa started to predict the worst... that this was some sort of a hijacking and terrorist act. Ron Kuby began to argue with him - that there just wasn't any reason to believe that this wasn't just some sort of a freak accident. They began to debate it more and more... with the subject turning toward things like ethnic/racial profiling... political tensions... certain ethnic groups promoting terrorism... etc. They were practically fighting with each other when the report came in that a second plane had just hit the World Trade Center. This was no fluke accident. Kuby fell quiet... and Sliwa stopped debating... they focussed solely on reporting.

Holly and I were in shock. I remember looking around to see if other people in other cars were hearing the same things. This just couldn't be happening!

We arrived at Caitlynn's preschool... where the teachers were gathered around radios playing the reports in the front office. Many of the people who worked there - including one of Caitlynn's teachers - lived in New York City... had just come from there that morning. They couldn't believe what was happening... but had no reason to believe that it wouldn't be "under control" soon. None of us did.

We all felt that it was best not to panic... especially when we still knew so little about what was happening. We said our goodbyes to Caitlynn... told her we'd see her in a few hours... and started to head back home. We were halfway home when the report came over the radio that the Pentagon had been hit. A reporter cut in to say that the President had been alerted that the United States was under attack. There were reports of a possible bomb at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. Reports were coming in of other planes that had not yet been accounted for.

I burst into tears... I just didn't know what to do... what to feel. I remember looking at the other cars. How many of these people knew what was going on? How many were just listening to a CD or something... with no clue as to what was happening "just around the corner"?

We arrived home... ran inside... turned on the TV to CNN. The news was filled with reports of possible bombs... of planes that are "missing"... of chaos... of people jumping to their deaths from the WTC. Then it happened... the first tower fell. You could see the people...

I remember standing in front of the TV watching that as it happened live... and I felt as if someone had just punched me in the stomach. I couldn't breath. It was the single most horrific thing I had ever seen.

Holly was on the phone with her mom at the time... and came in to the room to find me standing there. I looked up at her... and she said to her mom: "I have to go... we have to go get Caitlynn right away".

Walking out the door... it was like walking into another world. I remember hearing sirens. I remember hearing planes. I found out later that the sirens were a combination of Danbury police trying to scatter to maintain order... and Danbury fire departments rushing to NYC. The planes were from all over... people who were forced to land by the FAA... who had to get to the nearest airport - and ours was the one.

Traffic was heavy... after all, we were heading right towards NYC... and there were literally thousands of people trying to get there. I remember seeing police... fire trucks... Army Reserve and National Guard vehicles - some racing toward NYC... others racing in the opposite direction.

We got to Caitlynn's school as quickly as we could. She couldn't understand why we were there! Teachers were in tears. They couldn't go home... the City was closed off. They couldn't get in touch with their families there... the phones were either down - or the switchboards were too busy. Kids were crying - they didn't know what was going on, but knew that something was happening, and they were scared.

We grabbed Caitlynn - and flew out of there as quickly as we could... racing back home. I didn't know what was going to happen... I only knew that I needed to make sure that my wife and children were with me. I needed them to be where I could see them.

We got home... and the phone started ringing. People who knew we had to go in to NY that day - checking to make sure we were safe. People who were part of our spiritual group (Moonlight Circle... which no longer exists), in need of counseling to get through what they were seeing. People who had no way of seeing or hearing the news, who wanted to know if they could come over.

Within a few hours we had a living room full of people... glued to CNN... waiting. There wasn't any talking... there wasn't any sort of debating or anything like that. We silently watched the TV. Footage came in of both towers falling. Footage came in of President Bush being told the news while at an elementary school in Florida. Footage came in of the Pentagon... and of the crash site in Pennsylvania. Footage came in of the planes themselves - hitting the towers.

I remember feeling exhausted... I remember clinging to Caitlynn and Brandon... I remember my eyes hurting from crying...

I remember the next day... the intense feeling of terror when I walked outside and an airplane flew extremely low overhead. It was a military plane.

I remember walking downtown on Sept. 12th... there were hundreds and hundreds of people... having a candlelight vigil on the Green... then walking down to the War Memorial where there were candles surrounding the base of the flag pole. I remember police officers and fire fighters lining the streets... and people hugging them.

I remember having over 30 people... most of them Pagan... but also some members of the Buddhist, Baha'i and Christian faiths - gathering at our house for Memorial Rituals and Circles of Peace. It brought together people who ordinarily would not get along... and people who had not been speaking to each for many moons, yet have not stopped speaking to each other since.

I remember trying to continue... to "live life so the terrorists won't win". I remember hanging up the "Together We Stand" signs in the windows of our home... I remember hanging American Flags up on our car... I remember going to a Blood Drive held at the Danbury Fair Mall, where several members of Moonlight Circle donated blood. I remember going to the Chuang Yen Buddhist Monestary in Carmel, NY... and just praying for peace.

And I remember taking the kids to a playground on the weekend after September 11th. I remember having a moment of panic when I saw a white van pull up... driving very slowly along the edge of the park - the driver scanning the playground. I immediately started searching the playground for Holly and the kids... while keeping a close eye on that van the whole time. Then a little girl went running up to the van... and the door opened... and a man stepped out - and the girl gave him a very excited hug as she yelled "Daddy!!!"... and her mom came over and gave the man a hug and kiss as he held his daughter and they walked back to the playground together. That was the moment that I knew that things would never be the same.

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Today's image is of flowers and flags left at the base of Danbury's September 11th Memorial Tower on Main Street this morning. The tower - made of glass - includes the names of all of the Danbury area residents who lost their lives on that day. Here are more photos of the monument, taken today...

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