I left early Thursday and even while sitting at the Reno airport, I had to cover my face with the newspaper. I was crying just anticipating going to the city. I grew up in Manhattan, went to college in New Jersey and will always be a New Yorker, albeit, now without the accent. I wasn’t afraid to fly. I was thinking about the sorrow that I would be encountering.
I got to Tenafly, N.J. late Thursday and went to the home of a friend that I’ve known for 30 years, Mike. Sam was also there. Sam was on the floor of the Stock Exchange at 8:45 am, September 11th. They all watched the events unfold on CNN as we did but, for them, it was two blocks away. The doors of the exchange were locked for 45 minutes for security reasons and unlocked only as the Towers began to fall. Sam thought only of the desperate need to get home, back to Tenafly to Meg and his four kids.
He covered his head with his Jacket, his nose with his tie, didn’t look up for fear of the falling debris getting into his eyes and ran through the streets (the Stock Exchange is two blocks from the Twin Towers) up the West Side Drive to the Jersey ferries. He says not only is he unable to sleep from memories of what he saw and heard, he also cannot possibly process what he witnessed. Now Sam is and extremely eloquent guy who never struggles for words. He is now struggling for understanding.
Mike is a volunteer fireman in Tenafly. The firemen in many of these outlying towns are working off-hours going through the debris on Staten Island by hand for the FBI. I cried listening to my old friends, these two men so sad, so unsure, so lost. It was only the beginning of a difficult weekend.We too the Weehawken ferry down to Wall street. At the ferry dock, we encountered missing person’s posters too overwhelming for me. The tears started and will not stop. Still. “Have you seen . . . “ “ Last seen wearing….”, “Last seen on the 100th floor . . . “. “Gold wedding band on . . . “. It was all too much for the heart. Even the short ride to the South Street Seaport was quiet and agonizing. Those two towers that stood so boldly declaring power and invincibility, the New York stalwart personality—they were gone.
John McEvoy and I walked the six blocks to the closest viewing spot to the fallen towers. There are people back in the financial district, but we quickly came upon closed businesses, blocked street, spontaneous memorials, National Guard troops, armies of NYPD and then, the unforgettable view down Liberty Street at Broadway. The crowd was respectful, whispering, amazed. The heap is still burning, still reeking, still bearing painful witness to the attack. It hurt to see it. I wish I could summon a more appropriate word that unfathomable—for that’s what the sight is. We saw the site from many angles, each one deepening the amazement. We watched the relief staging area on West Side Drive the debris removal to the wharves and continued over the TriBeCa Bridge to Battery Park City. In an attempt to bypass the Battery Park City area and to get back over to the financial district sooner, I asked a cop for permission to cut through one spot. “OK, but you may be turned back by the next cop. Take your chance.” Somehow, John and I did not get stopped. A group of 10 Salvation Army chaplains were on tour and, in absolute fear and knowledge that we were in the wrong spot, we hooked onto their group. We walked by the destroyed Port Authority-Trans Hudson (PATH) terminal, on to the southwest corner of the WTC walked past memorials abandoned’ each sight solidified the knowledge that I was on holy ground. Where 3,000 die is American holy ground. It is overwhelming. We eventually left the group.
The National Guard is encamped in Battery Park. We walked to Union Par to the memorials, to Little Italy to two firehouses that lost five and thirteen firemen. Every scene moving. So sad. Evidence of our vulnerability, evidence of our mortality.
We left NYC at midnight; I to the ferry, John to the PATH train. I cried on the ferry, I cried on the 30 minute drive back to my parents’ home. I cried for an hour in their living room, not able to sleep. My city is change and I am mourning.
The next morning, I drove with my parents to a funeral in Montville, a small New Jersey town that lost 11 people in the World Trade Center. Gayle Greene worked on the 100th floor for March & McLennan Securities Corp. That company lost 313 of it 725 workers that day. Gayle was one. We have know Gayle for 25 years. She was 51, single the life of every party. She was a fix-it miracle worker on the job and for her friends, and exceptional joy, and now dead. She got to work early that day and M & M as she always did. No one who got to work early that day made it out. No one. The others live to attend their funerals. There was a group of a dozen co-workers at the funeral; they had already attended almost 30 funeral and were on their way to yet another that afternoon. So many small towns that had commuter on the PATH line were hit in this way. Ridgewood, a town a few miles from Tenafly, lost 29 people.
We are just not affected in this way in our distant security. The people there all have stories, have connections, have deep pain. I’m’ hoping we can have empathy, can weep with those who weep. They are 3,000 miles away, but their sorrow could not be contained in a universe. I believe God does heal the brokenhearted and I also know that the path to the is a tough one.
We American, we people of the world cannot let this happen again. Please have the compassion to mourn with our countrymen in whatever manner you can find. It is not time to go back to normal; we need the passion for justice and the compassion for healing.
Kathy Baldock, Reno, Nevada October 8, 2001