It’s impossible to believe that ten years have passed since September 11, 2001. But it has, and here we are, looking back and remembering a day when the entire world as we knew it, changed.
So many people have asked me what I was doing on the morning of September 11, 2001, and how I discovered that America was being attacked.
I have no exciting details of my own life to reveal, for it was a routine day for me, and when the first plane went into the first tower, I was quietly sleeping in my bed in my home in Atlanta, Georgia. (I gained Saudi work habits during the twelve years I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and I tend to write late into the night and sleep in until eight or nine in the mornings. Jack, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and was at one time a college professor, was using his legendary teaching skills at a training class for adults. My adorable persian cats Champagne and Caviar were no longer alive to cuddle with me in bed. Therefore I was home alone.)
As is my habit, while trying to ease the sleep from myself, with eyes closed, I patted the bed with my hands looking for the television remote. I turned on the television set to hear Today Show hosts Matt and Katie speaking in very low voices. Something felt odd, so I opened my eyes to see their very serious expressions. An image of a tall building shooting flames was visible on the screen. Breaking news was that an airplane had flown into one of the twin towers.
My eyes popped at that news. I shuddered, instantly thinking of the people who were in that flaming building. I have a true fear of heights and the one time I had gone into the towers, I had left faster than I went in. (Peter Sasson (my ex husband) and I frequently traveled to Manhattan during the years we lived in Saudi Arabia. Peter started up and managed one of the first insurance companies in Saudi Arabia and some of his reinsurers were located in New York; therefore, business required him to visit that city several times a year.) I had grown to love the bustling city and always enjoyed our times there, generally staying at The St. Regis on 55th & 5th, a fabulous NY hotel.
The one and only time I was in one of the towers was when Peter had made reservations at Windows on the World restaurant. My memories are fuzzy, but I believe we were meeting some of Peter’s business acquaintances there. I had looked at the towers many times, but always refused to go inside. Peter finally talked me into giving it a try, but I was trembling even as the elevator was making its way to the top. When we arrived at the restaurant, Peter, who is afraid of nothing that I know of, merrily pulled me close to the edge of the tall windows, wanting to point out the city from the tallest point. Big mistake!
Although I am normally a calm enough person, those impossibly huge windows went all the way to the floor, making me feel that I was only a heartbeat away from plunging to the ground. I remember screaming, pushing Peter away, and turning to sprint out of the building. Peter was hot on my trail. But I refused to consider staying one second longer. I leapt into the first elevator available. Peter, realizing he had made a big mistake pointing out the window view, tried to reason with me, but I was out of there in a flash. Time has erased the memory of whether he stayed with his guests, left them his credit card for their invited dinner, or what. All I know is that I had a big respect for those buildings and I knew that I would never again return.
As years passed, and the trips to Manhattan continued, I always viewed the towers with awe as I studied them from a safe distance or from airplane windows when flying in and out of the city. I also had awe for the bravery of every person working in those towers. I really could not understand how they could concentrate on work while literally working in the clouds.
Like most people, I speculated on the airplane that had hit the tower. Had the pilot suffered a heart attack and plunged into the building?
And so I watched in absolute disbelief and horror when the second airplane hit. Then, like everyone else, I knew it was a planned attack. The events to follow left me dazed and sorrowful. I couldn’t telephone Jack because the facility he was teaching at was locked down. I called friends in the city, friends all over America, and of course, my mother, someone I have always spoken to on a daily basis, no matter where I might be. Anytime I ended a call, it would ring. So many calls were from my Muslim friends in London, or, in the Middle East. All were calling to make sure I was not in New York, as they had a vague recollection that I was soon to travel to New York for the launch of ESTER’S CHILD.
I remained in bed for that entire day and night, unable to tear myself away from the television. I did take the time to put in tapes to record the newscasts of the major network channels and CNN and FOX. I ate cheese and crackers in bed, unable to do anything but watch television.
One event was more horrible than the next, from towers crashing, to the Pentagon being hit, to planes crashing into the earth. As horrible as each event was, nothing was more agonizing than hearing the sounds of human bodies hitting the ground around the towers. How bad was it in those towers, that jumping out of them seemed a better option than staying in them? I remember burying my head in the pillows each time I would hear that awful sound.
I was crushed by the agony I was witnessing. I was also devastated to see a few celebrations in the various countries that America had been hit. Although everyone has the freedom to dislike or even hate governments, and frankly, I’ve seen very few government I can admire, the idea that anyone could celebrate the death agonies we were watching, the end of life for young men and women who had babies waiting for them at their homes, was more than I could fathom.
Every person alive who viewed the events of September 11, 2001 have their own experiences, memories and feelings. I am no different. I will say that it was the sight and sounds of those falling bodies that I have never been able to erase from my mind.
This modest poem expresses something of my personal feelings on that dark day.
September 11, 2001
I gazed upon a sunny day
to see a puzzling rogue gray shadow.
Black winds puffed with dark ideas
while gutted towers touched the sky.
Innocent men and women were paying the highest toll
for hatreds directed at the entire world.
How bitter it was to witness a torment too dark for human eyes,
as the vision of fading lives spiralled down down down to the earth’s unforgiving floor.
Those witnessing or hearing the death plunges,
longed to pluck each being from the dimming sky.
The moment the unfortunates yielded their last breath,
their sorrows evaporated with their souls.
But the sorrow of wasted lives was still alive and pulsating,
reappearing into those who had known them, loved them.
When the longest and saddest of days finally disappeared into night,
smoky fires lit the dark sky, painting a mourning pyre,
for those who vanished forever into the ash.
And now the ones who continue to plot our demise have discovered,
that freedom will fight fiercely for its life.
Originally written: September 14, 2001 and edited: September 9, 2011