This was the amazing view I'd see every night before going to sleep. After a lifetime of living in New York City (and then waking up each morning to view its glorious skyline from the Jersey side), I had just moved to Los Angeles about a month before 9/11. Finally, a longtime dream was coming true. Things were falling into place.
Little did I know, as movers packed the last of my boxes onto a truck bound for Southern California, that I was leaving behind more than just years of comfort in familiarity. My moving day would be the last time I'd ever see the World Trade Center's gleaming, majestic towers. I can't tell you how often I'd take the Path train to WTC for meetings in that area. Friends of mine owned a production company and lived in a loft ONE BLOCK AWAY. Little did any of us know that September 11 would be etched into our hearts and the pain never forgotten. Nor should it.
I remember getting a phone call early that morning from my boyfriend at the time. He was still living on the east coast. His voice was strangely somber. "They flew a plane into the World Trade Center." After a few seconds of silence, my response was that of a typical New Yorker. "What the hell are you talking about? You're crazy. Who does that? No way. I don't believe it -- you've got to be wrong. WHO DOES THAT?" After dropping my daughter off at school, I came home and found out it was true -- al-Qaeda does that.
Like the rest of the world, I sat glued to the news and watched that horrific scene -- over and over and over. Tears streamed down my face for eight hours straight. I felt totally helpless and couldn't move. I couldn't think and was in complete shock. Why? I, like the rest of the world, couldn't comprehend what had just happened. Where do we go? What do we do? What was next? For the first time ever, I felt like nothing, even our mighty military, could protect this country.
Family and friends were shaken but okay -- for the most part. A close friend, who had shared that same skyline view a few doors down, immediately took her kids to Florida. The same day. My mom, who'd been planning to visit me the following week, wasn't sure if she should cancel her flight. That boyfriend? Turns out he had a 9 a.m. meeting at Cantor Fitzgerald but rescheduled earlier because he was running late. He never left his house. Talk about fate ... but it hits home even more.
My first cousin, who had just moved back to Westchester county after living in Cali for years, also had a 9 a.m. appointment in the North Tower. His breakfast meeting across the street took longer than expected and, he not only witnessed everything as it was happening, but was one of those covered head-to-toe in debris trying to escape. Post-traumatic stress disorder plagues him to this day and he refuses to venture into Manhattan. Ever. And I don't blame him.
I can't imagine the psychological torment he's been through, relives, and still battles on some level, but he was one of the lucky ones. He survived. What I can't begin to imagine is the grief and heartache of the victims' families -- to this day. It must be too much to bear regardless of the time that's passed.
Shedding tears every year in their memory is an honor, because we're still here. Reflecting on how we can spread peace in a world where hate-mongers thrive is an honor, because together we can initiate change. Remembering this tragedy is our duty, because being alive is an honor. Never forget September 11 ... and be thankful that we are American.
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