“Daddy, please come,” my daughter said on September 11th. Together, we watched the towers fall. Me, from the safety of my San Francisco home. She, from an office building in Rockefeller Plaza, wondering if her friend survived.

In August, I had scheduled a trip to visit her on September 18th.  Nationwide, the planes were grounded and I didn’t know when the airports would reopen. But I knew I had get to New York. Mostly to give support to my daughter, but having grown up only one-hundred miles from New York City, I felt an affinity not only with the city, but also it’s people and culture. Only a few days before my scheduled departure, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that on September 18th, the planes would start flying again.

As I waited to board my plane at the Oakland International Airport, I heard, “He’s moving towards the gate!” It was a security guard frantically speaking into her walkie-talkie as she tailed a well-dressed man of middle-eastern decent. Within a few minutes, three policemen appeared and trotted through the terminal trying to catch up with her. It was the beginning of ten days where the events I witnessed and was involved in generated emotions that are still as vivid today as when they originally occurred.

In New York City, it began when I went into the subway at Lexington Avenue to get on The 6 Train to lower Manhattan. Walking down the stairs, I  heard the refrains of Ava Maria played on an accordion as pristine pictures of the missing appeared on graffetied walls. The missing were always smiling, sometimes with friends, but mostly with children. “Have you seen him?” “Have you seen her?” the posters read. Throughout New York City they kept reappearing as did the tears of people who stopped to read or even glanced at them.

When I exited two blocks from were the Twin Towers once stood, I saw empty gray buildings beneath a blue sky, as earth generated clouds drifted up and vanished. The smells of devastation and death combined, easily passing through the clean white mask given to me by a tired policeman.

I saw people push to photograph images that were too horrible to forget of twisted steel skeletons guarding lifeless spaces. Spaces that once held the dreams of people whose families waited for news, but already knew.

From atop one building a Sousa march tune blared from speakers for the benefit of people who were too numb to listen or too grieved to care. And phamleteers unashamedly thrust words of salvation and doom into hands willing to accept anything.

I watched reporters trying to tape the perfect interview, while thousands of cell phones described images that had no words, to people who listened, but I’m sure couldn’t understand. And later that day, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the entrance to the  Islamic art exhibit was closed.

In the city’s parks, I saw babies play in a world that was newer than they, while pigeons took crumbs from trembling fingers, and emotionally bruised and battered New Yorkers pulled out damp cloths from Gucci suits and stained overalls.

At the half-priced tickets kiosk in Times Square, a steel drum played patriotic songs as an indescribable smell stopped conversations in mid-word, until it moved on, spreading throughout the boroughs.

That evening, my daughter and I walked past candles glowing in front of a fire station in which flags were readied to wrap comrades. Later, in a mostly empty restaurant, we listened to glasses clink to missing friends, as we and other strangers who heard the toasts sobbed along with those offering them.

For six days I aimlessly wondered through a city that I had known in different times and realized it would never be the same. The memories I took back with me to San Francisco were more surreal than a Dali painting. It’s been ten years, but they still slip through the walls of my consciousness, riding on innocent sounds and visions.

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16 Responses

  1. Tiffany Marshall

    Like you, I was part of the population that was back in the airport as soon as planes were allowed to fly. At the time I lived in New Hampshire. On September 10th I had taken the American Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angles; exact same flight 24 hours before. And like you I found myself in NYC about two weeks later.

    I had vacation planned with my Aunt. She had never been to New York, we didn’t cancel our trip, it seems almost too important. It was if I was being drawn back to the city where I had worked so many times. I needed to go, see, expierence and say good-bye. Good-bye to the clients that only a month before I had been working with in the WTC.

    I think often about how a few minutes or 24 hours can change a life, even save a life. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks for your kind words Tiffany, And yes, what occurred in New York, in terms of what it did to those who lived there was mind-boggling.

      Take care,
      Stan

      Reply
  2. Diane Carbo RN

    Stan,
    Your story touched my heart and brought back memories of those days 10 years ago. Both my son’s were in the Army. My youngest was on his way home from Thailand when the towers went down.
    We received a call to send him money from his account because of the extra time he did not anticipate he would spend there.
    His bank was at Fort Knox. A shaken voice answered the phone when I called the bank. The young woman told me, that the were going to be closing because they did not know if they were going to be targeted for an attack. When I told her about my son, she allowed me to transfer money into his account.
    When I picked my son up at the Philadelphia Airport, his flight was one of the first ones in. This busy, active airport was eerily deserted and empty.
    The Army had called my son to return to active duty, so his furlough was cancelled. We saw him for a few short hours before we had to put him back on a plane to return to Germany.
    I remember sobbing and feeling so afraid, because the future was so uncertain. I did not know if or when I would see my son again.

    It has been 10 years. I too, Stan, have moments when there are glimpses of that time unknowingly creep into my conscientiousness. It has changed my life forever.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Diane,
      Thanks for your kind words. I was an amazing and frightening time. And I’m sure for anyone, such as you, it was particularly harrowing, not knowing what the outcome would be.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  3. Allan chalmers

    And we fancy Ourselves the highest order of beings. Hah. Which members of the animal kingdom would do that ? Oh, I forgot, other species don’t have religions

    Allan – currently in New York

    Reply
  4. Linda Walker

    Stan,your memories of what happened to you that awful day, brought all the pain and tears back and… yes.. I sit here and read your story and a few others. I guess all of this shows how strong Americans are and how we can pull together and keep going! My heart and prayers goes out to all who lost friends and loved ones on that terrible day! As everyone has, I also remember where I was.. on vacation in Mexico. There was a very nice mexican lady that I spoke to everyday and I was telling her that morning, that we were going home the next day and she said ” no..no.. you no go home, you come home with me.. you can’t go home… kamikaze pilot hit white house.. you can no go” I thought she was joking with me, and I walked away toward the beach and kept thinking about it, so I asked every American I saw and not one knew what I was talking about, so I found my husband and we went upstairs and turned on the television, and the internation news was all we could get…and there it was.. this was around 10:00. To this day, all I have to do is think about it and the tears come.. It was an experience I will never forget! I remember all I wanted to do was go home (Georgia). We had brought my 13 year old daughter and her friend with us. The people there were wonderful, although they were not prepared to deal with such a tragedy with so many americans trying to go home. We had to stay several extra days. There was a senator’s daughter there with a group of her college friends and her dad sent a plane from Ireland over to Mexico to pick them up (O’Ryan International) and they had a few seats left (you had to stay in constant touch w/ the people at the hotel) they called us and asked if we wanted those seats. Yes! We flew into Atlanta very unexpected and they wouldn’t let us land right away (45 minutes later), then once we landed we had to stay on the plan almost an hour before we were allowed to get off. In all my years I have never seen the Atlanta airport empty) We had to single file line up and walk that way through the airport, with armed guards,the only people you saw were military and a few people who worked there. It was like something out of a movie. I know the people of New York are reminded every single day of their lives and the people of the rest of this country “We Also Will Never Forget The People of New York and their loved ones lost and all that were on the four planes and their targets, the Pentagon and the field in Philadelphia.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Linda,

      I’m always amazed how the most significant things in our memories can resurface as fresh as if they occurred yesterday.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  5. Pat

    Hi Stan,

    I appreciate your story, and I certainly understand and support the need to tell one’s own story. This is a very healthy way to help people process and cope with their individual experiences. Your blob and other blogs are good places for this.

    What I continue to find troubling (and a bit anxiety-producing) is the way the news media is handling the “anniversary of 9/11”. Once again, primary victims (as well as secondary victims) are being exploited. Like 10 years ago, it is difficult to shield one’s self and children from the images and pain. Every day at the top left hand corner of my log on page, there is something…sort of like a countdown. Staring at the TV, reliving the stories of others is not healthy for anyone.

    This was a horrific event, as was the holocaust, as are other tragic events that continue to happen in the world. Awareness is one thing, but this seems like pure sensationalism.

    For some, it was entertaining to watch O.J. Simpson’s endless car drive down the freeway. This is not an entertaining event. I also believe there is an addictive quality to it all. I still haven’t decided how I will spend the day — maybe Spirit Rock or some other event with a spiritual component. You definitely won’t find me at the Solano Stroll, which seems really crazy.

    Take care. Miss seeing you,
    Pat

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Pat,

      I agree with you on the commercialization of 9/11. But I wouldn’t expect anything different from the media. Remember, these are the folks that push microphones in the faces of mothers wanting to know how they feel about their son’s murder.

      There were a few reasons I wrote the article. Self-healing wasn’t one. I’m not big on cathartic experiences. What I tried to convey was that directly experiencing something, whether it is something as massive as 9/11 or as individual as a loved one’s death, is very different than reading about it. I think those who were in New York and witnessed the event, such as my daughter, or shortly after it, like me, can never find closure or healing. I’m not sure I would want to. The event will always stay in our memories. But regardless of the pain, it becomes a searchlight for understanding. From 9/11 I learned many things that have allowed me to see things differently

      take care,
      Stan

      Reply
      • Pat

        Never questioned your reason for writing nor your experience. The word ‘closure’ is meaningless in this situation and others. You can write an entire book on what it’s not. You can even include a few chapters about ‘moving on’.
        Now with another potential threat, I cynically wonder where the media will go. Sometimes feel like starting a huge revolt against the insensitive and often incompetent media folks and the rich $@#!! who own the media.

      • Stan Goldberg

        Hi Pat,

        I’ll let you handle the media. I used the word “closure” in my last response, not because I thought that’s what you meant, but rather because I think it’s a dangerous concept. I know it’s a buzz word for many therapists, especially grief counselors. I’ve always believed that those horrendous experiences we all have can be our greatest lessons, from mass tragedies such as 9/11 to the breakup of relationships. It’s in line with my favorite Tibetan saying, “Lean into the sharp points of life if you want to make them less threatening..

  6. Norrms

    Hello Stan my good friend, your words about 9/11 will stay with me just as long as that day does, you have made me feel i was there with you and shared your horror and your grief as well as your mixed emotions. From all here within my family and all here in the Uk are thoughts and prayers will always be with our dearest friends “Accross the Pond”

    Best wishes, Norrms and family xxxxx

    Reply
  7. Ronee

    It was a young friend from Germany who called and asked ‘What’s going on in your country?’ She had just returned home from work and turned on her TV.
    In Orlando I was tending to my very sick husband at that time.
    We watched the second plane hit the tower, and knew immediately that our world had changed forever. We were both so numb. I briefly stepped outside and looked at our clear, sunny sky…and asked ‘WHY Why Why’…We cried for all those who were lost and missing and hurt.
    It was then I decided to do something good for my community and its people as soon as possible.
    We all have to be there for each other.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Ronee,
      In coming away from any tragedy we always the option whether or not to have something good (relatively speaking) come out of it. I applaud your choice to help your community.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply

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