September 2001 | Commentary | Checking In

September 11, 2001

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I don't have the ability or, at this time, the inclination to craft the correct words that describe to you what happened on September 11, 2001 in New York City. Let me just relate what I saw, thought, and felt on that day.

The morning was clear and bright, with perfect weather. My routine was the same as tens of thousands of New Yorkers—I made my way by Long Island Railroad to Penn Station on 8th Avenue. To the left of the station, the World Trade Center stood tall over Lower Manhattan. But I did not look that day, so I did not know that a plane had just crashed into Tower 1.

Except for the scream of sirens in the street, all seemed normal. But as I entered our building, I learned the Twin Towers were on fire. I found an office with a view of the Towers, where dozens of workers had already gathered—silent, stricken—looking down 8th Avenue at the large plume of smoke pouring from the center of Tower 1.

We knew instantly that this was a terrorist attack. Some of us even spoke the name of the small Satan we thought did it.

Many thoughts and feelings flashed through me as I stood watching. My 17-year-old daughter had spent her summer interning at the World Trade Institute in Tower 1, Floor 55. For her, school resumed the week before, but her friends—and mine—were there. It looked like the plane hit near their floor. I was convinced that many, maybe all, had died. (We were tortured for two days with those thoughts but found out they all got out alive. All.)

I thought of my oldest daughter Lisa, who, working at her first "real" job on Wall Street, had impetuously left for France a few days earlier. She would have been exiting the subway right there, near that moment.

My next thoughts were of the Port Authority people—friends that I had worked with. Would they be able to get out?

As we stood there frozen with worry for others, as civilized people will do, I saw from the right another plane flying low, over the river from New Jersey. The plane banked around. We could see flashes of it between the buildings, and it came in over South Ferry at the tip of the island. We knew then. Cries of anguish all around, prayer too.

Our eyes saw, but we tried to will it away. As the plane turned and approached the side of Tower 2 that we could not see, it disappeared from our view, except the tip of the wing. Flames came out the side we could see.

That was the moment I first felt the anger, an anger that has since turned to deep rage. We helplessly watched Tower 2 collapse. Knowing the number of people on each floor, we knew we were watching perhaps 4,000 people die at that moment. When Tower 1 collapsed later, it was unbearable. My rage grew, and became even deeper, and has been with me since.

Later that afternoon, the quiet, empty streets. The empty trains. Later still the condolence calls: Scott Bart, who I had watched grow from a 10-year-old into one of the best young men, just back from his honeymoon. Kevin O'Rourke, fireman, father, husband, hero. My high school coach who lost a son in Tower 1 and son-in-law—just visiting—in Tower 2. And others.

I write this account so you can know some of what we saw. Perhaps it will give you a little more resolve for what needs to be done. May God grant peace to those who lost their lives, grant comfort and strength to the families left behind, and grant the rest of us justice.

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