I witnessed September 11th. I saw the breaking news report after the first plane hit in the safety of my home in Brooklyn and I watched in horror as I saw the second plane fly into the Trade Center on live television. I felt the windows in my apartment shake, while my mind was wondering whether we were experiencing Armageddon or WWIII.
Back in 2001, I was still freelancing for a Canadian Television station. I flew into reporter mode and grabbed a change of clothes, water, phone, notebook, (even though my mother in Canada made me promise I would not leave my house) and was told by my contacts at the newsdesk in Toronto to get into Manhattan anyway I could. (All bridges into the city were closed). I paid $700 to a private fishing boat operator to transport me across to New Jersey and then flagged down a driver to drive me up the coast to meet a satellite truck. While all of this was taking place, I phoned my mother several times to let her know I was safe, as well as check on friends.
I saw people arriving in New Jersey from ferries from the Trade Center, covered in white chalky dust. The military personnel and Red Cross workers had set up showers and facilities to cope with chemicals or biological contaminants.
Like most reporters, my heart and adrenaline was pumping. I didn’t realize that the story I was about to cover would be my own personal nightmare. I was no longer just an observer but a participant.
What do I remember from the days that followed?
Phoning my mother and crying hysterically that two of my friends were missing.
People walking around aimlessly near Ground Zero holding photos of loved ones, hoping to find them.
Lower Manhattan covered with thousands of photos of those missing and praying that I didn’t see anyone I knew.
Feeling joy and relief to hear that my friend C.M. was safe.
Telling a friend that R.G. was still missing and a search of the hospitals had turned up nothing.
Seeing the pedway at Ground Zero, which I had walked across just a few days before, twisted, and unrecognizable.
Witnessing people walking out of Bloomingdales on Sept. 12th with shopping bags and feeling sick.
Volunteering at Ground Zero, making meals for the teams of people who were working without sleep hoping to find the living in the wreckage.
Hitting the ground every time I heard a loud noise or a plane flying overhead.
Not sleeping night after night…
Attending my friend’s funeral and knowing that he would have made a great father or husband, but that his life and that of his girlfriend’s were cut short.
Crying a year later when I heard the stories of lives lost… the firefighter, who wasn’t working that day but jumped on a passing fire truck and never came home… a Muslim waiter at Windows of the World who would never see his child born and his wife who remained silent about his death because she didn’t think people would be sympathetic to her loss.
I still walk with the scars from that day. I can’t look at photos from that event without living the horror of it.
There were mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children, friends, and neighbours in that building. More importantly, this was not an event that just affected the United States…93 countries lost citizens that day. Please let us honor those by being gentler and kinder to our fellow man. Let there be peace.
To all the people who lost their lives or a loved one,
My heart is with you and I haven’t forgotten.