Monday, September 11, 2017

My letter to friends sent on Sept. 11, 2001 after returning home from the WTC attacks

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working for Lehman Brothers in the World Financial Center Building #3, across the street from World Trade Center Tower #1 (the north tower), the first one hit by terrorists. After a long walk home (I lived on 139th St., so that was about 8-9 miles), during which I stopped at Union Seminary for a few hours to be in a holy place, and spending time in Riverside Park for another kind of holy place, I sent this email to many friends and family. Our landline phones were out in the apartment, and cell coverage was really spotty, but the DSL was still working so I at least had Internet and email was the only way I had to get news to a lot of people. There was no Facebook yet!

here it is, with all the typos and mistakes:

Evening of Sept. 11, 2001: Letter to friends and family and the world

To all my friends who have inquired already, and those who might be wondering about the events in NYC this terrible day, I send this note.

I thank you for the many messages and phone calls you have offered to me and to my sister and to Yuki to find out if I was safe. Coming home from the World Trade Center and finding so many emails and phone messages was a real delight, although as we know, the circumstances were not good. But rest assured, I did escape without injury. I had always wondered just how long it would take to walk between work and 139th street where I live, and now I know: about 4 hours. Work is *not* within walking distance.

I began work as normal this morning about 8:00 am in World Financial Center Building 3, which is across the street from the World Trade Center Tower 2, the first building to be hit by terrorists.

As we watched from our office window the flames and smoke pour out from that first strike in Tower 2, our thought was simply that a very unfortunate - but possible - accident had taken place. Fairly unworried, we sort of went back to be about our work, though many of us continued to watch CNBC on the many monitors that are placed around the trading floor, and which some poeple have on their TVs on their desks. After the second plane hit, we realized it was intentional, and called for the evacuation of our building. Though we could see the damage fairly well through our windows, we still did not have a good sense of just how terrible it was.

I left our building and headed north a block or two. As I was walking through a group people watching the towers, I heard the sudden intake of breath and horrified gasps. I turned around, and witnessed a person - a fellow human being - jumping out of a window from near the top of the tower. That was just the first jumper I was to see. It was a sickening feeling, knowing that for those people, jumping was probably the most painless and hopeful way to die, as they were certainly trapped at the top with no hope of getting out. I think of those people's families, and shudder and recoil at this senseless murdering. I do not wish to ever be witness to such a thing again. I soon came across Claire, a woman with whom I work, who needed to take the ferry across the river to get to New Jersey. We walked back to the Ferry, which is located on the other side of the building I work in, and has a full - and close - view of both towers. Thankfully, she managed to get onto the ferry and it left the dock just as the first building collapsed. It was an incredible sight - though it is diffuclt to describe something which is, ultimately, such a horrible thing. It was loud, it was scary, and created a cloud of debris and dust that went much higher than the 45 story building I work in. The crowd who were gathered there, including me, once we realized what was happening, ran like hell, and I don't mind saying that to you all.

I followed the advice of the police who were shouting constantly "Don't look, just go North!!!!!" I went North, and didn't look back, until I hit about 20th street. Being more than a mile away, I felt safe turning around to look. After a few seconds I was witness to the destruction of the second tower. That tower came down in two parts - first the top slid down, and when the dust cleared just enough to see an angled portion of the tower left, broken beams and metal sticking up like a building you might see in an "end of the world" movie, the angled part also slid down, with a mighty roar and another fantastic plume of smoke. I continued walking north, and did not rest too easy until I was north of the Empire State Building. Beginning at about 50th street (or as we New Yorkers would say, beginning in the 50s), life around me became more normal. People were gathered in parks, mothers and fathers were pushing their children in strollers, people ate at outside cafes. Of course, it only makes sense, but after coming from the chaos of the World Trade Center, it was surreal. As I walked through the 60s and then the 70s, the amount of "normal life" increased, until perhaps about the high 70s, when one would have no idea, in watching people, that something had happened, though many people carried radios with them, and did have stunned looks about them. But there was no panic, no running, no crying, no police officials like I had been immersed in earlier in the morning. Still shaken, and occasioanlly realizing that I had just watched two buildings be destroyed, I moved into Riverside Park, to enjoy some quiet and some nature along the river.

It was a horrible thing what happened today, and though I wasn't totally at ground zero, and managed to avoid any of the smoke and dust, watching those magnificent towers, those giant, tall, admittedly eye-stain-ugly late-60s architecture towers go down was stunning. Not stunning like a diamond, but stunning as in "I was stunned". I still am stunned. I can barely comprehend these towers, which I have linked with NYC for so many years, are gone. And not just gone, but actually attacked with intent to destroy by people who have no value for life. To think of the loss of life, which must be in the thousands between the innocents on the airplanes, the innocents in the towers, and the fireman who were in the buildings trying to help people out when they collapsed.

I am not quite sure what to think of this event, or how to feel about it. It is one thing to watch disaster strike from afar; quite another to be in it, and to realize that it happened here in the US, where such things have not happened before. Random bombing and exloding is something for Isreal or Palestine, or London, Afghanistan, Africa or Europe. But not here. Not in the US. And certainly not in my workplace.

I am confused and still in shock, and have finally turned off the radio, as I couldn't take listening to the news any more.

My prayers go out to those who were trapped in the buildings, and trapped in the airplanes. My prayers go out to their families. My prayers also go out to those who did this, and those who would like to have done this. Though their act was evil incarnate, and they must be brought to justice swiftly and surely, and though we must do what is necessary to guarantee to the best of our ability that this not happen again, still our prayers must be with them, and especially with the rest of their cabal. Jesus certainly taught us to pray for our enemies and those who would do us harm. Pray for them, that they might come to know truth and peace. And of course I pray for all of us, those of us who will spend much time wondering if we are safe, wherever we are. Always wondering. I pray that you are all angry about this, but I pray that our anger be the anger of good toward evil, the anger that serves as our energy to drive us into constructive action, and not the senseless anger that cries merely for revenge and offers no real solution. Let us be angry! I'm angry as hell - they almost killed me, and they did kill a lot of innocents! Senselessly, brutally, for no reason that any human could comprehend. let us be outraged! Let us be righteously shocked! let us call for our leaders to swiftly destroy this evil wherever it is, and to eliminate it forever. But let us also do so with hearts and mind open, and not be a mob that does not reflect on its actions, and that quashes evil with only more evil in the name of "good". Be a force for good, and pray for us and for our country that our actions will be done in mindfulness, with full understanding of what we are about to do, and not out of the mindlessness of a berserker who simply smashes and hacks at anything that gets in his way.

I do not know when I will be able to return to work. I do not even know how much, if any, damage my building suffered, though I imagine it lost the windows and is filled with with a thick coating of dust at the least. I heard on the radio that later this afternoon another building went down, though I doubt it was mine, since the Towers, if you look at one of the good maps, has numerous smaller buildings immediately next to them. But who knows how much collateral damage might still happen in the next couple days.

I am praying for you all, and for us, and for this country, and for our world at this time. Let us give thanks for what we have, and for those who escaped the clutches of violence. I am grateful - very grateful - that I was led out of the violence unhurt and unscathed. And let us pray for God's presence to heal and to strengthen us, to unite us, and to bind us together in love and peace like the children of God that we all are, that war may no longer be known by any child or adult.

I leave you all with a fitting quote from a good friend of mine that my random quote generator popped up when I opened this email.

"In a land where ignorance is a virtue, the blind man is king" - Joe Raposo, Statesman and composer, August 27, 2001

Blessings to you all,