Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirteen Years Later

I was walking to work in Times Square the morning of September 11th, 2001.

This adventurous little Hawaiian moved to the Big Apple after college to pursue big city dreams.  And I hit the jackpot- I somehow got a job at MTV, the coolest brand in the universe.  I felt incredibly lucky- I worked with fun people at a fun company in New York City.  I was living the life.  

I clutched my Kate Spade bag as I arrived at my building on 44th and Broadway. The elevator ascended swiftly to the 13th floor.  

When I emerged, I noticed something odd: no one was at their desks.  I turned the corner and saw a group of colleagues in the conference room, crowded around the television.  

As I walked in someone whispered: A plane struck the World Trade Center.

We sat in reverent silence as we watched the news, awaiting updates.  The question on all of our minds: What happened?  How could a commercial airliner have crashed into that mammoth building?

No one thought it was anything more than a horribly unfortunate error.  My friend Shirley told me I should call my parents, just in case. Though it was 3 am in Hawaii, I woke up my mom to assure her that this plane crash was at least a few miles from me:

Mom, I’m fine.  Just wanted to let you know.

But then, the second plane hit.  The mood shifted from sadness to uneasiness.

Maybe it wasn’t an error at all.  Maybe we were under attack. 

A wave of panic washed over the room.

We desperately watched the news, and struggled to determine next steps. There weren’t any manuals for a situation like this. 

We waited for an announcement over the intercom, a fire alarm— something-- but nothing came. Tension was rising in the room when my boss announced that everyone should evacuate the building immediately. 

September 11th was a beautiful, sunny day in New York City.  I was wearing a steel blue blouse, black cotton pencil skirt, and four-inch heels.  It was a challenge as I descended the thirteen flights of stairs.

We rushed into the streets, where huge crowds of people were milling around, equally stunned and confused.  Not sure what to do or where to go, my friend Brad suggested we head north.  The trains had stopped running, so we trekked 50 blocks to his apartment on the Upper East Side.   

A few minutes into our journey, my friend whose cell phone was still working, announced that one of the buildings had fallen.  We walked in disbelief as the situation seemed to get worse with every minute.    

We were glued to the television at Brad’s house.  When it was clear there wouldn't be any immediate answers, I decided to start walking home to Queens.  It would be a long journey, as I would be heading from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, across the Queensboro Bridge, to Astoria.  

Some memories are still so vivid: I clearly remember Brad assessing my terrible shoe situation, and handing me his much-too-big slippers to wear instead.  While awkward, they were a welcome relief to four-inch heels.

The next few days were somber and confusing.  Should I go to work? Are we safe?  Why did this happen?

I’d love to tell you that I tried to find the positive in the situation.  But at the time, all I remember is feeling completely terrified.

Thirteen years later, as I reflect on my experience living in New York on 9/11, time has given me the gift of perspective.  

It would be so easy to dwell on the evil.

I’m focusing on the light.

I remember the compassion and kindness of New Yorkers.

I remember hundreds of people lining up around the block to give blood. 

I remember total strangers, grief on their faces, yet nodding with encouragement as we walked across the Queensboro Bridge, with smoke rising from the towers in the distance.

I remember the overwhelming feeling that we were all in this together.

I remember the light.

Today as you reflect on this momentous day in our history, I pray that you find peace and love. 

And look for the light. 

You cannot force out the darkness; you can only bring in the light. – Elizabeth Gilbert

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. - 1 John 1:5

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