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    Still Standing Tall

    More than the New York skyline changed on September 11th, 2001...

    There was a candlelight vigil here at 7 PM on Friday September 14.

    The streets of New York were filled
    with people standing and walking with candles
    to remember those who are lost and
    to honor their families and friends
    to show the powers of terrorism
    that the world will have light, hope and freedom
    no matter how hard they try to extinguish it!

    September 11, 2001
    I live in New York City. On Tuesday morning, as I sat at my computer beginning to write a story about surviving breast cancer, I received a phone call from my husband. He told me to turn on the TV - a plane had hit the World Trade Center. My first thoughts were sorrow for those who had lost their lives in this tragedy. Then the second plane came into view and it became clear that this was an event designed by man and not an accident.

    Horror Beyond Belief
    As I watched, the buildings began to crumble and fall.

    I worked for a while in one of those buildings, shopped in the stores, ate in the cafeteria. The phone call from my doctor saying I needed to go for a biopsy was received at a desk in that complex. I left from there for my biopsy results. I stood in the sunshine and listened to a concert in the plaza, with children playing near the fountain, before I left for the appointment. My coworkers there hugged me and helped me get through that experience.

    As I watched from my window, the cloud of dust and smoke rose. I wandered from the TV to my window and back, the images of the people I know who worked and lived in and near those towers filled my mind and the tears began. People began calling, but the phones were not working.

    My friend called from New Jersey.
    Home after a double mastectomy on Friday, she had seen the images.
    Then the transmissions from the New York stations stopped
    as the tower sank into the rubble.
    Several attempts to get through on the phone had been unsuccessful.
    The horrific feeling that New York was gone was very real.

    Piercing the Silence
    The normal sounds from Second Avenue were gone. An unnatural stillness filled the city. In place of the steady beat of traffic and people that makes a background to my life, there was quiet... and sirens. Police cars and vans, fire trucks, ambulances tore through the streets. All racing to get to the scene and begin the work of saving those trapped by this demonic act of terror. Then the news that the Pentagon had been hit and another hijacked plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.

    The Lucky Ones
    I managed to get in touch with my sister who is a New York City police officer. She was safe. My daughter's boyfriend, also a cop was safe. A friend from high school - a fire fighter - alive. I crossed to NYU to give blood - the lines were already formed and the wait was hours long. Many on line had walked out of those buildings and up to the hospital to stand on the lines. I will never be able to put into words the emotions that filled the lobby where we waited.

    We were all so grateful to be survivors. We were all so overwhelmed by the love and generosity that came out in so many stories of help and comfort. We were all in shock at the unspeakable horror, the intensity of hatred, that could make human beings do something so inhuman. We were all in pain at the thought of how many would not survive.

    How many families would be devastated by the losses?
    How many children would come home from school
    to find that a parent would not be coming home?
    How many parents had sent their children off to work
    never to be seen again?
    How many husbands and wives would be wandering
    from hospital to hospital to try to find their loves?

    On Thursday, I heard screams coming from the street. They carried in the quiet. Looking out of my window, I saw a well dressed, gray haired, black woman throw herself against the front of a parked van, sobbing hysterically. Coming downstairs I went to where she was sitting - on the ground with tears streaming down her face. Her daughter and husband were with her and a small crowd had gathered to offer comfort. Through sobs, her daughter told the story. The son, her brother, had been missing since Tuesday morning. They had just gotten a call on the cell phone - he was alive! Hurt and in the hospital, but alive. The screams and tears were joy not sorrow. After more than two days of holding onto a hope that faded with each place they searched, they found that their prayers were answered. The tears in the eyes of everyone there reflected the hope that we all still share.

    The Loss
    Thousands will not be as lucky. Both in Washington and New York the casualties are high.

    The cops and firefighters talk about their brothers and sisters.
    Hundreds lost trying to help.
    They say that the death count will be over 3,000 in New York.
    Each of of those lost will impact on a network of friends and family.
    One sign that touched me posted in a window in the city,
    "Now I know why people run into burning buildings."

    As a breast cancer advocate, I know the pain that comes from a loss. But our losses are to a disease and come one at a time. These are lives that have been cut short by an insane act of terror. Gentle, loving people who sat at work and called loved ones to say good-bye. One friend received a call from her son - he wanted to tell his mom that he loved her one last time. She has not heard from him since.

    The Pain
    So many calls to husbands and wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. Final calls of love and sadness... messages left on answering machines that echo on the streets from TV screens. The hospitals and buildings all over the city carry walls of pictures - faces and descriptions placed by families searching for a lost one. Hoping that someone will recognize and tell them. Hoping for news that the one they are seeking is still alive, but readying themselves for the news that they dread to hear. For now, they wander through the streets, from hospital to hospital, not knowing... not able to stop hoping and knowing how little reason there is for hope.

    There is no why. Anyone who has dealt with a terminal disease knows that asking this of doctors just brings a sad shrug. Like HIV, cancer and natural disasters, the reasons for this do not make sense. I asked out loud, "How could people do this to other people?" The best answer I received was, "Don't go there, sister." We'll never understand, and if we could we wouldn't want to be able to think that way.

    Like disease, there will be many studies that try to pinpoint the causes of this tragedy and many causes will be found. But the only real answer is - you do everything you can to prevent it, but sometimes... it happens. Insane hatred explodes...

    Where Do We Go From Here?
    In this city, the lines to give blood and help in any way are too long for everyone to be seen. I have had phone calls and email from all over the world from people expressing their horror and sympathy at what has happened. Color, race, religion? Who cares... we all are survivors and the bond between us is so much stronger than any differences.

    My soon to be six year old grandson
    took in the news of the devastation.
    After he finally understood --
    bad men had destroyed the towers he loved --
    he said, "Well, it's a good thing
    they didn't destroy the Statue of Liberty,
    because then they would have destroyed our freedom."
    We explained to him that, even then,
    they could not have destroyed our freedom.

    They may be able to destroy the symbols we hold dear. They may be able to hijack planes and bomb school buildings and try to force us to lose our ability to know happiness and freedom. They cannot succeed. All they can do is make us more aware of how very precious and fragile both freedom and those we love are.

    Will this last? I don't know. I know that surviving breast cancer does something to you. It makes you better, stronger, more focused. Will surviving this horror change people? At least it would give some purpose to this event where thousands of lives have been sacrificed. I listen to the choir in an British cathedral singing the United States National Anthem and I hope.

    If you want to find out about giving to the victims of this tragedy you can call:
    The World Trade Center Relief Fund at 1-800-801-8092.

    We Will Survive - Images

    American Red Cross
    (1-800-435-7669), (Spanish speakers call
    American Red Cross Blood Donation Information
    Remembering New York's Bravest
    September 11th News
    The September 11th Digital Archive

    September 14, 2001


















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