As I looked out the window, I saw black smoke billowing from one of the Twin Towers. Within a few minutes I saw the second plane hit the other tower. I knew then this was no random accident of pilots getting off course and hitting the tallest buildings in the city. We were under attack.
My initial reaction, like so many New Yorkers, was to find my family. I tried calling their schools but cell phones weren’t working. The same thing happened when I called my husband’s office near Grand Central Terminal.
When I finally found a phone booth, there were long lines. I was quicker on foot and started walking back uptown.
Stores and offices were being evacuated, for fear of bombs. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was closing Manhattan’s tunnels and bridges and streets were shutting down to make way for emergency responders. People were told to go home and stay home.
When I reached my daughter’s school, I learned her homeroom teacher had left to search for her husband at his office in the Twin Towers. The principal was closing the school, but many of the parents couldn’t be reached to come pick up their children. I took some of my daughter’s friends to our house for safekeeping.
Everyone has their own unique September 11th story, but we all shared a common sense of being gut-punched. Who were these people who attacked us? Why did they hate us? Were we now at war, with an enemy that deliberately attacked innocents? Would we ever be safe again? What would this mean for our nation? Our families? Our children? Confusion and despair hung over us like a shroud, just as the dust cloud created by the Towers’ collapse lingered for days.
Those iconic pictures of the Towers burning, and then collapsing, still have the power to terrify many of us. But what happened in the days and months and years that followed September 11th, 2001 has came to define us.
In the days after September 11th, while we were still shell shocked and grieving, seemingly helplessness in the face of a surprise attack, a different narrative emerged. We started seeing what the American people were made of.
It was common people doing uncommonly brave and noble things — naturalmente, instinctively, without being told what to do or even how to do it. That is what Americans do – we might be pushed down, but we get back up again. We innovate, we improvise, we show unimaginable courage, and creativity and grit. We don’t scare easy. We don’t shrink from evil, we fight it…and ultimately defeat it.
-I vigili del fuoco, police and paramedics who rushed into the burning towers to save people, heedless of the risk to themselves. The Fire Department Chaplain who remained to pray over the bodies of the dead, only to be killed himself when the Towers collapsed.
-The people who helped guide their fellow workers down long flights of stairs in the dark. The man who carried a wheelchair bound colleague on his back for 50 voli, and then went back into the towers to rescue others.
– The New Yorkers who dropped everything and immediately converged on lower Manhattan to help first responders with rescue and recovery.
-A makeshift Armada of tourist boats, commuter ferries and private vessels sailed converged on New York Harbor and evacuated half a million people trapped in lower Manhattan.
– The thousands of New Yorkers who just a day before would have been too impatient to wait for the light to change before crossing the street, lined up by the thousands at hospitals to wait hours to donate blood.