Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where I Was When it Happened

I worked at Duron Paints in Center City, Philadelphia. It was a factory of sorts and Howard Stern was a morning norm. I was busy working on a grumpy tinting machine in the back when I heard them doing a bit about a plane hitting the WTC.


And what seemed now to be painfully slow, but in retrospect felt pretty quick, Stern confirmed that it actually happened… and said so. Just a few minutes and it was all real.


I brought out a small black and white TV, put it on the front counter and turned it on. Sweaty contractors were still coming in for their morning orders and we were all in the midst of deciding what was going on. Within minutes of watching and sweating silently together the second plane hit. We all thought it was a replay of the first until it was pointed out the other tower was already burning.

When the towers came down some contractors were crying. Work stopped. People looked at each other and we all felt it. And stopped talking.

We stood dumbstruck; furious, helpless, speechless and numb by what was happening to others and so to us all. The whole city was shut down by the mayor and everyone fled with an eye on the tallest buildings in the center of the city as if it they would wake up and lay down on us all in a reverse A-bomb of rocks and dust.

I rode my bike in that day and when I left (after the traffic storm) I rode up the River Drive and it was like a still life. Little cars or people around, even the Schuylkill River seemed still and mute to let you imagine you can feel the rumble from Manhatten.

My daughter was a few weeks old and my sister was still in the air, flying back from an overseas rowing meet in Taiwan. My wife’s brother was down in Cherry Point, out of Marine boot and ready for his first float overseas… he was embarking on the ship when the planes hit. The in-laws, having dropped him off the day before and then leaving the motel that morning, were on the beltway when the Pentagon was hit. Nobody knew what was happening with my sister, my brother-in-law or my wife’s parents.
You had to sit quietly and take the medicine. You couldn’t change any of it.

Lives stopped that day. Even for those that lived.

So today is about how you got started again and maybe, what it all means. I think it’s about realizing you have to care about others in a world that is more crowded, loud and strange than ever. Caring is more than respect, it’s a survival skill wrapped in the medicine that destroys the things that cause everything bad that we hope never happens to us to come true.

It’s also about knowing that not everyone will do the same for you but you have to keep at it, especially when it seems useless... that's when the difference is made.

So here’s to not stopping, to all those who lost their lives on 9-11 and to people like you that keep up the change for the better.
It’s how we stop just surviving and we all start living.