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Where were you when…?

September 9, 2006

Where were you when. . .?

Every generation has an event of a magnitude so large that, often, the event itself does not even need to be named.

Where were you when JFK was shot?   Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell?

One Tuesday morning in September, another question was added to that list:  Where were you when the Towers were hit?

I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday:

I was on the “El,” heading into Center City to go to the Library when the cell phone of a man a few rows ahead of me started ringing.  We were just pulling into the Spring Garden station when I heard him say, “What do you mean ‘the tower’s been hit’?” or words to that effect.  As soon as we pulled into the 2nd Street station, I got off the train and headed above-ground.  I took out my cell phone (which had an FM radio built-in) and switched it to the lowest frequency on the FM dial so that I could pick up the audio feed from our ABC affiliate.  I listened to the coverage and, just as my bus pulled up, the reporter on-site told the on-air anchor that the tower had just fallen.  The on-air anchor (I think it was Ted Koppel) tried to clarify what the on-site reporter said by asking if he meant that a wall had fallen, but the reporter re-iterated that, no, one of the TOWERS had fallen.  As I boarded the bus, the driver noted my shocked expression and asked me what was wrong.  As I recounted what I had just heard, he whispered “Oh my God.”

When I got to the Library, they were bringing down a TV so that the crowd which had gathered could view the news coverage in the lobby.  When there was a computer available, I logged on to ostensibly search for a job, but I was drawn back to the news coverage time and again to see if there were any more developments.  After my alloted hour was up, I made my way back down to the lobby, where an even larger crowd had gathered to view the televised coverage.

Word started to spread among those gathered that SEPTA would be ceasing operations at 2:00 pm and that those who needed to make their way home via public transit should do so immediately.  However, there quickly arose a problem: the streets of Center City had transformed from a free-flowing cascade of constant traffic to a logjam of proportions never before seen in my experience.  Buses and trolleys could no longer maneuver through the streets and passengers were forced to walk to their destinations, or at least to the “El” or Subway.

As I walked down the Parkway to City Hall, where I would board the “El,” a horrible thought crossed my mind and lodged itself in the deepest recesses: “If they’ve struck the financial capital (NYC/WTC) and the political/military capital (Washington, D.C./the Pentagon), what’s to stop them from hitting the historic capital (Philadelphia/Independance Hall, Hitoric District)?”  As I looked at the buildings stretching tens of stories above me, I walked a bit quicker to “El” with the nagging thought chasing me that we could be next.

I arrived at 15th and JFK and began a conversation with a few people who, like me, were waiting for the light to change.  As we were talking, a uniformed soldier walked past in full camo, minus the war paint.  A collective gasp went through our group as we observed this soldier walking past.  Considering the state of mind we were all in, it is not surprising to know that our first thoughts were of martial law and possible threats to our city.

I boarded the train and headed for home where, without a TV at the time, my only link to the outside world was my FM radio.  All through the night I listened to the news coverage and wished for days gone by – simpler, peaceful days.  I knew, as I finally fell asleep sometime around 3 AM, that life from that day on would never be the same.

The days after have become a blur – the anxiety felt until friends and loved ones who lived or worked near the Towers were heard from, victim counts, constant news coverage, replay after replay of the moments of impact, the sight of men and women choosing to fall to their death rather than endure the Hell that must have exsisted on the floors which had been struck, words like “al Queda” and “Taliban” added to our vocabularies overnight, “God bless America” signs everywhere, the teary-eyed requests from the families of the missing for information.

Later, we would hear of the heroic efforts of the men and women of the NYPD and FDNY who risked, and in (too) many cases, gave, their lives to rescue those who survived.  We would also learn of the valiant effort made by passengers on Flight 93 which resulted in their demise, but kept the hijackers from reaching their intended target.  “Let’s roll!” became ingrained in our collective conciousness as a battle cry to action.

Our future, as a country and as individuals, have been forever altered by the events of that day.  We woke that morning as people who, for the most part, had never seen terrorism of such a magnitude up close and personal.  We spent the day, and the days which followed in a figurative haze as thick as the cloud of debris which hovered over “Ground Zero” for days after.  We went to bed forever changed by the events we had witnessed, whether in person or through news reports.

Where were you when the world stopped?  When life as we know it changed forever?
Where were you when the Towers were hit?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Irene permalink
    September 9, 2006 8:16 pm

    Wow.

    Mary, you know I always love to read things you write, but this has outdone anything you’ve ever written before.

    I remember where I was, and I remember them sending my husband home from his work that day “just in case”, even though the likelihood of our little city getting hit was one in a million. And I remember the agonizing days of waiting to hear from friends.

    This is a really powerful piece, and especially as the anniversary of that horrible day approaches.

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