A Personal Story Of Terror, Tragedy And Triumph As We Remember 9/11 Twelve Years Later
It's been twelve years since I moved to New York City to begin my twenties and the next chapters of my young-adult life, asserting my independence in a city with so much hope and promise for the future. It's also been twelve years since that fateful day. The day that changed the future for us all.
On September 11, 2001, the cloudless skies of New York City were a crisp blue and the autumn air was welcome as the bright sun warmed the streets filled with eager twenty-something-hopefuls making their way to the offices that held the keys to their future successes.
Young stockbrokers, traders, bankers, accountants, consultants and more hustled into the towering, 200,000 tons of steel known as The World Trade Center's 'Twin Towers.'
My stepbrother, Josh, was among those hopefuls. At 29 years young, Josh had it all. He was an equities trader at Cantor Fitzgerald in the financial hub of the world. He had married his best friend, Rachel, nearly a year before and in five days, on their anniversary, he looked forward to presenting her with the diamond bracelet he had been hiding in his dresser drawer. In just five more days, he would no longer be a newlywed. Their joyous first year of marriage was coming to a close.
The World Trade Center was where Josh belonged. He was on top of the world. Literally. Surrounded by windows and engulfed in computer screens displaying stock tables and flashes of red and green numbers documenting the ups and downs of the market, 104 floors above ground, Josh came alive. He had the camaraderie of the friends he made over the last seven years at Cantor and even had the support of his father-in-law, Will, Rachel's dad, who also worked on the same floor.
That morning, Tuesday, September 11, 2001, it was Election Day in New York City. It was also the first day of school for the city's public schools. Some were also getting a slow start due to the Monday Night Football season opener between the NY Giants and the Denver Broncos, played the night before. But Josh was on time. He was at his desk for his 7:45 a.m. daily call with his father (my stepfather), Barry. They spoke until about 8 a.m. at which time the first American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston's Logan airport, headed for Los Angeles. As Josh worked on the overnight trade commentary, Dr. Barry Aron said goodbye to his son, and went to do his rounds in a hospital outside our nation's capital.
About an hour later, as Barry walked through a patient waiting room, he looked up at the TV and saw The World Trade Center, Tower 1, burning from what was believed to have been a private plane crashing into the tower. As he stood in disbelief, the second plane barreled through the center of Tower 2 with uttermost force. Barry quickly rushed back to his office and called Rachel. She had spoken to Josh. He had told her 'he'd figure it out' and call her back when he got outside. Barry knew how much Josh loved puzzles. He loved a challenge. With an analytical mind, Josh always found the solution. Barry knew he would find his way out of the building. He knew he'd figure it out.
Twenty-nine years earlier, it was the spring of 1972. Barry was expecting his second child in just a couple months, his first son. Barry, a doctor, doing his residency in New York City, was looking for some extra money and was offered the job of the on-site doctor at the original World Trade Center construction site.
All construction sites had doctors on-call to treat any sort of incidents from headaches to cuts and scrapes that may occur on-the-job. On this specific day, nearly thirty years prior, the building was near completion and the decking had just been finished on Tower 1. Barry was called to the 104th floor for a minor incident and was told to take the elevator up, but that he would have to take the stairs down, as the elevators were being used for the construction. He put on his hard hat and took on the task enthusiastically. After all, he was on the site of the tallest building in the world. This was a part of history.
And it was the place his expectant son, Josh, would come to work more than two decades later. It was where Josh would ride those elevators for seven years, but on that particular day in September, Josh wouldn't get to ride the elevator down either. It was where Josh's life would tragically end.
Twelve years ago, my family, New York City and the entire nation, were brought to our knees. As I reflect on the years that have passed, I realize that a single day has changed the course of the future for all of us, both personally and as Americans. The lessons our country has learned have helped to heal our scarred souls and the soul of this nation.
John Moore/Getty Images
Stay Vigilant & Informed
As young adults, it's more important than ever that we stay informed. 9/11 was our Pearl Harbor. It was a horrific lesson; one we should not take for granted. We no longer have an excuse to let something like that happen again. It is our responsibility to ensure that a vile attack, like 9/11, never again threatens the lives of innocent Americans. We know our enemy. And it's a very different enemy than this country has ever faced. There is no fight on a battlefield between soldiers dressed in uniform. Instead, we are fighting an ideal; a belief; an extremist mentality that threatens everything our country stands for…our freedom, the American Dream, but most importantly, our safety and the security of this country.
As a jet-setting generation, we have become used to security measures post-9/11. Yes, the hassles of traveling can be a drag. But don't complain that you have to take your shoes off at the airport, or that the body scanners are a violation of our civil rights. Don't complain when the NYPD asks to search your backpack in the subway station. Thank the TSA agent, thank the police officer and enjoy your trip. THIS is the world we live in now. If minor sacrifices could have saved those 2977 lives, we would all have gladly been inconvenienced. We must stay vigilant.
It is also so important for all of us to stay informed. That is our number one job. Read the newspaper. Watch the news. Know and understand the implications of the events of the rest of the world.
Around the world or here in the U.S., we all have one thing in common: black, white, Democrat or Republican, we are all part of the human race and we are all responsible for preserving it.
We Are Not Immortal
Most of us, at twenty-something, thankfully, are not faced with our own mortality. Of the total deaths on 9/11, 11% were between the ages of 20-29. 328 'Invincibles' walked out their door that morning ready to conquer the world.
We all use the phrase "Life is short" rather loosely, but until you are faced with death, it's impossible to truly understand what it means to live. Trauma educates. Things that we know are going to die seem more beautiful for their brevity. A flower, knowing its life is temporary, makes us appreciate it all the more.
When we are faced with tragedy or loss, we are reminded that nothing lasts forever. To know that a moment, or a feeling, may be fleeting, unable to retrieve when lost, we are forced to see life more sharply, to breathe it in, heightening our senses to the beauty around us. Tragedy can leave you hungry for life.
[caption id="attachment_345357" align="alignnone" width="600"] Josh & Barry | Josh[/caption]
Keep Telling Your Story
Survivors from that day in 2001, as well as the victims' family and friends, were forced in a matter of minutes to confront the impermanence of life. About a year ago, along with my stepfather and mother, I decided to become a volunteer tour-guide for the WTC Memorial site. We joined the likes of other volunteers whom all had a connection to that tragic day and a story to be told. Collectively, we wanted to continue to share our stories, keeping our loved one's memories alive, but also to inform the generations to follow of the events of that day. By keeping the conversation alive, no one will soon forget.
Every one of us has memories from that day; our own stories to share. Each story will touch each person in a different way.
As we spent a weekend with other volunteers during training, everyone's stories were shared. It's amazing how each one of us had a different perspective of the events of the exact same day. Such as the 23-year-old girl who was only 12 on the day her father never came home; or the woman who worked for the Port Authority and was on the 76th floor of Tower 2 for a seminar. As she climbed down stair after stair in the dark, panicked, she wondered if her husband, also working in the building, would make it out alive or if their daughter would become an orphan.
There was the retired firefighter who remembers making eye contact with 'jumpers' from above the impact zone, just before their bodies hit the mezzanine; and the wife of a businessman who had 2-year-old twins and was eight months pregnant with their third child, a boy, who would never meet his father.
And there was the wife of a fireman, whose husband loved his job. He lived for the 5-alarm fires that made his job exciting. He would share his adventures of the job with his wife and four children. On that day in September, his family waited for him to come home; hoping against hope for a miracle. As the children went to bed and day turned into night, his wife waited on the steps outside their home. She waited all night. As the sun began to rise, she realized she had made it through the first night without her husband. She realized that although her world seemed frozen, the sun still came up in the morning and a new day began.
As I gaze out of my apartment windows today, against the backdrop of a cloudless crisp blue sky, I look directly at the World Trade Center Memorial and the new 1776ft tower. To my right, I see that Lady everyone knows. She sparkles against the Hudson River and I grasp the unbelievable beauty I am surrounded by.
The beauty of what has come from such destruction. The beauty from the stories told, the heroes of this city who risked their lives for strangers. There was true goodness in that terrible place on that terrible day. As the towers were burning, melting, near collapse, we saw a thousand Americans show up to lead what is now known as the greatest and most successful rescue effort on American soil in all of American history.
On that recognizable Lady, The Statue of Liberty, reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Since she arrived in America in 1886, she has been reminding us to respect our differences. On September 11, 2001, we had no differences. We were Americans. And this sacred ground outside my window has come to symbolize so much…Freedom, Hope, Love, Heroism and most importantly, The Future.
Top photo credit: WENN