My appointment was for 10am at the World Trade Ctr. on Sept 11th 2001 to meet a local Real Estate broker.
When our American Airlines flight neared LaGuardia and we passed the first tower engulfed in smoke, we had no idea what had happened. When the plane emptied, we poured into a moving herd of hundreds of people walking in a zombie state – no one spoke, it was a just symphony of cell phone ringtones and hushed calls. In the taxi crossing the bridge on that hot humid day, the windows were down and one station could be heard in stereo on every car radio, all advising locals what was happening: “NYC is to be closed. Bridges and tunnels shut. Airports closed. Air traffic suspended. Effective immediately”.
I left four days later and I will remember the fear, the confusion, the compassion, the smell and the love; the sadness, the courage and the humanity of the people of NYC.
And while I have many memories, the one I cannot forget, is that evening, sitting in the lobby bar of the Ritz Carlton with my scratched and filthy bare feet dangling, my shoes laying beside me. 30 minutes earlier we had been eating near the Empire State Building when firefighters ran in, yelling to get out and run towards the Hudson River – there had been yet another bomb reported. Hundreds, orderly, quietly, all looking at each other with the same “not again” look on their faces, streamed. My husband called me on the way saying: ” its a false alarm”. He was watching CNN and they had already determined it was just a prank – but I didn’t believe him. When we finally stopped running and turned around, the Ritz was the closest. We went to the bar – a sea of quiet, except for the TV’s. There must have been 200 people comfortably crammed in. No words. just the sound of the bartender getting ice, opening bottles, then it happened.
Two firemen walked in, in full gear. We all turned and they removed their masks revealing an exhaustion and determination that my mind cannot un-see or forget. The crowd parted as they made their way to the bar, were handed water and beer and then it began, the slow and steady clapping. It was the only thing to do. We all stared in a shared grief. We clapped slowly, our hearts broke and tears fell. They looked around. Took it all in. They nodded in appreciation and went back out through the revolving doors, to face the unimaginable, all over again.
There are many stories. This one is a piece of mine. I’ll never forget that moment of pure empathy. I will never forget the lives lost.
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