After my aunt died in 1984, I remember this number had popped into my head, a series really. 9-1-1-0-1. It seemed to me like some variant of binary code at the time, so I asked my mom, a computer guru, what it could possibly mean. She corrected me, binary means two, there are only 1s and 0s. Nothing else. So I prayed about it and that still, small voice told me those numbers meant the something bad was going to happen, like the world was going to end. And for about 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, their time here on this planet did end. Let’s take a moment of silence for them now.
I was running late for work the morning of September 11, 2001. The season of construction was in high gear on my walk down Bryn Mawr to the express buses. When I walked into the Dunkin’ Donuts before the train, Latino music blared from trucks and scaffolds. I came out and it was like I entered another world. I kept looking around for the movie truck. All of the radios now played the same thing. They seemed to be announcing the the World Trade Center was hit, it was on fire. Now the other tower was hit by an airplane (both of them were, I only witnessed impact via radio for the second structure) and the structures were on fire. Then they collapsed. The horrors of the atrocities coming out of the radio were too much to take in.
There were only a handful of people on the extended bus. At first we spread out, enjoying the space on the normally packed bus. Then one woman on the bus kept freaking out because she worked in the Sears Tower (not Willis yet!) and couldn’t reach anyone in the office. A man with a Palm or some other early smartphone looked up the news and read the headlines to try to calm her fears. We gravitated together to listen. Lake Shore Drive was empty. So this is the condition needed to get down from Hollywood to the Magnificent Mile in 8 minutes. I’ll take busy any day.
Few people even made it into work. The small company that shared the suite with the small publisher I worked for was in the process of closing up and going home. The owner of the other business told me I should go home, too. Who knows what the day would bring? My boss was out of the office and her husband told me I was probably safer staying where I was. I had just moved and didn’t have a working phone at home, so I agreed.
The employee of the other company decided to stay with me. The phones were sometimes available, but mostly busy. Downtown was a ghost town. Starbucks had even closed. People had been stopping on their way home and forming long lines which was blocking key intersections. We spent our time watching the small TV we had in the office and talking about the state of the world we lived in.
At some point during the day, our favorite building employee came into our suite and asked us in a pleading voice if we could just go home. He didn’t have to stay until the building was empty, but his personal duty to our safety wouldn’t allow him to go home. He wanted to be with his wife and four kids. I’d never heard him sound like that before nor since.
I started to panic after considering that I would be alone without a phone. Andrew told me to come home with him. His partner would likely be waiting for him there. County buildings had all shut down much earlier. I didn’t want to be a bother, but the promise of company and a likely working phone convinced me.
The bus to Andrew and Jose’s was surprisingly busy considering the emptiness of downtown. Jose was home and welcomed me in. He apologized for their lack of a stocked fridge, yet produced a nicer snack plate than I have eaten for some meals. Andrew and I sat in front of the TV and quickly became entrapped by despair. Those images are forever burned into my brain. Again, Jose came to the rescue. He turned off the TV and beckoned us to the back porch. We could share good stories and enjoy the nice backyard. Wise man.
So we talked, laughed, and enjoyed the life that was and thankfully, still is. Remember the loss. Live for today.