I woke up today with a heavy heart. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t on the anniversary of 9/11. I’m on the east coast for a few weeks and I looked at the clock and remembered the day’s events with sickening clarity as the times passed when each plane hit:
8:46 a.m.: Flight 11 crashes into the World Trade Center’s North Tower
9:03 a.m.: Flight 175 crashes into World Trade Center’s South Tower.
9:37 a.m: Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon
10:03 a.m: Flight 93 crashes into a field in Pennsylvania
I don’t know anyone who was over the age of 10 on 9/11 who doesn’t remember where they were and how they responded. I moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1998, but that day I felt like a New Yorker again. I didn’t lose anyone I knew directly in the tragedy, but, sadly, knew people who lost spouses and siblings or who had their own stories of escaping downtown and walking miles to safety or they had dust, ash, and debris on their shoes from that day and they couldn’t bring themselves to ever wear those shoes again once they fully understood what that meant.
I’d never really heard the term “first responders” before 9/11, or don’t remember hearing it, and now, whenever it’s used, it takes me right back to that day and Billboard’s D.C. bureau chief waking me up in L.A. a little after 6 a.m. Pacific time and telling me to turn on the TV. I’d just flown back from the east coast on Sept. 10 and was groggy and wasn’t grasping what he was telling me. Then I got it all too clearly. I was Billboard’s west coast bureau chief and I remember calling my staff and telling them not to come in until further notice and then, like everyone else, watching in horror as the towers came down.
I’ve read stories today or Facebook posts where people try to put a positive spin on the day: not that it happened, of course, but about how America came together or how we showed our resilience. I appreciate the effort, but I’ll never be able to come up with a single good thing that came out of that goddamned horrible day. (Not to be judgmental, but even more shocking to me are the people who post as if today were some ordinary day and their piddly problems- like someone at work annoying them or having to wait in line somewhere—even deserve mentioning today--or any day, quite frankly.)
In 2003, Esquire published this piece, “The Falling Man.” It’s hard to get through, but it is such an exceptional piece of reporting that I have friends who read it every Sept. 11. It took me until the 10th anniversary to read it and there are still parts of it that take my breath away.
I haven’t looked at firefighters the same since 9/11. They became even more heroic to me. Today, I found this video on the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation website. It’s from last year and it’s heartbreaking in the way it details the struggle the firefighters who survived 9/11 (343 did not) and worked to clear the debris have gone through to get care. Since 9/11, at least another 56 have died of what are believed to be 9/11-related causes.
The most amazing thing about this video are the recordings of the fire chiefs as they relay what is happening at the World Trade Centers and, at first, how utterly calm they sound, even when the planes crash into the towers. They have a job to do and the circumstances may change, but the job description does not: to run into a building that other people are desperately trying to run out of. God bless their souls.
The NYC Firefighter Brotherhood counsels firefighters who are ill and provides financial assistance.
Sept. 11: NYC Firefighter Brotherhood