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.
As I watched, the buildings began to crumble and fall.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Thousands will not be as lucky. Both in Washington and New
York the casualties are high.
cops and firefighters talk about their brothers and sisters.
Hundreds lost trying to help.
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
sign that touched me posted in a window in the city,
"Now I know why people run into burning
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.
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.
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...
Do We Go From Here?
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.
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.
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.
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.