I wrote this a year after the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks (unedited)

I had an 8 am meeting in the office that morning. If not for that, I would have likely been at 6th Avenue and Spring Street catching a cab to the office around 8:45. I was grateful that I was in the New York office surrounded by the warm comfort of my colleagues. I found refuge in the Viant office and team in the days following the attack.

I was coming out of my meeting when I overheard Mercedes tell a few people that Michael said a plane hit the empire state building. I recall riding in the elevator with a bunch of people and we were not overly concerned…just wondering why did a small plane hit the Empire State building? To me, it was a last moment of innocence.

I looked north to the Empire State Building and saw nothing but the stunning blue sky. Then, looking south there was a huge jagged tear and thick black smoke high up on the North tower. I immediately knew we were being attacked. I am an avid plane watcher and I know that they do not fly south this close to Manhattan. Suddenly we saw the 2nd explosion. Doug Whitten said he saw a plane go in. The rest of the day was a blur of disbelief, fear, sadness and shock.

Thankfully, everyone on the Lehman team was safe. I didn’t really know any of them well, but I remember feeling so grateful that each and every one was not physically harmed. I remember crying in front of the TV with Janice, Carrie and others when that tower fell; thinking of the people we knew.

I spent the next two weekends wandering the city. I observed war and peace debates, candle vigils, dogs wearing the American flag, a lone bagpiper belting out the most mournful of tunes, rock and roll wannabies playing Dylan, Taylor, a sole cellist playing on West Broadway at 7am. I just ambled through the city feeling very alone but also embraced by the outpouring of community and love.

Immediately following the attack, I would spend my evenings on Canal and West Broadway watching the flatbed trucks hauling enormous beams of mangled steel down Canal Street and out to the Holland Tunnel. When I went out for my runs, I had to try to avoid the transfer zone where dump trucks full of debris would load their haul onto waiting barges. Sometimes you could recognize a water heater, a door frame, but mostly it was just violently twisted steel. I went to mid-town to have dinner with friends one evening and I was struck at how “normal” everyone seemed to be. There were shoppers on 5th Avenue, people laughing. It was weird. I couldn’t wait to get back downtown.

The smell — each night sitting in my southern facing Soho apartment only reminded me that there were thousands of dead people just a short distance from my home. It seemed obscene that I was sitting on my couch watching TV knowing the hell that was downtown Manhattan.

On 9/11 this year I did not go to my office in midtown. I was compelled to say home in my new place in Tribeca. I walked down to the World Financial Center and sat and took it all in for about an hour. The wind was amazing – there was paper swirling through the air, a huge dust cloud reaching for the sky, a tattered and torn American Flag on the Deutche Bank building. As I struggled to walk against the wind, I couldn’t

help but think of the 2,801 people who lost their lives that day – were they sending a signal to their loved ones or were they expressing their rage at what happened to them? I won’t soon forget the feel of that wind.

These days, I am so sorry that I did not look up more often and take in the sheer power of those towers. The Sunday before the attack, on my normal run from SoHo to the Statue of Liberty Ferry, I took a detour. Instead of backtracking along the bike path I turned in and found myself on the Trade Center Plaza. I remember thinking “I hate it here” I felt uncomfortable; I can’t really say why, but my feeling was to get the hell out of there and back on my picturesque path by the water. In retrospect, I am sure that my ending up there was sheer coincidence, but what happened the following Tuesday, makes me feel grateful that I got to walk that ground one last time. I miss those towers and only wish I had appreciated them more when they were here.

My Visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning

I am not a family member. I am not a survivor. I am not a first responder or recovery worker. I am a witness and a local resident.

Over the nearly 13 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, various organizers have come up with a stakeholder scheme that is used communicate updates and plan for major events such as anniversaries, openings and commemorations. There are four key groups: 1) families, 2) survivors, 3) first responders, and 4) local residents. As a local resident I was able to get a ticket to view the 9/11 Memorial Museum before it opens to the public today. I am so thankful that I took advantage of this invitation because I avoided being mixed in with the throngs of tourists from all over the world who also want to pay their respects, but who really didn’t experience that day in they same way that those of us in one of these four stakeholder groups did. I am not minimizing their feelings, but my experience of that day is forever seared in my heart, mind and body because I saw, smelled, heard and felt so much of what happened. I am far removed from the unthinkable pain that the families, survivors, and responders must feel. I’m sure they think that I couldn’t possibly understand. Maybe I can’t, but I was here, living and working downtown and I watched the second plane hit the South Tower. I heard the screams coming from the streets as the buildings fell and lived with the acrid smoke that filled my apartment day after day as the fire burned. I walked the streets of Manhattan, shell-shocked and witnessed the incredible humanity, which I do not think I’ll ever see again in my lifetime. See my blog about that day by clicking here.

The Foundation Hall

The Foundation Hall

I spent four hours in the Memorial Museum. I could have stayed longer, there was more to see and read but I simply could not. I eventually had to get away from the pressing sadness and escape to the sunshine and fresh air. My throat was choked and I had to bite my lip and fight tears as I wandered alone, avoiding eye contact with everyone. I could not help but absorb the emotion that surrounded me. And I was deeply angered by those who lacked respect such as the woman whose kid was playing a loud iPhone game with no headphones in the middle of the Exhibition Hall and the woman who talked loudly on her cell phone about trivial matters while inside the In Memoriam Hall. Both are meant to be quiet, contemplative spaces where we can learn about what happened that day and honor the nearly 3,000 murdered people. There were only two people who acted inappropriately, but I do worry about what’s going to happen when the place is opened to the public.

Some people were outwardly emotional but most were like me, holding it in, grim faced. I exited as I entered and noticed the pained expressions on the faces of people who were just coming in. It’s worse at the beginning and somehow getting to the end offered up some relief as I felt my face start to relax. It must have been because of the flow of the experience — at first you are taken by the Foundation Hall that houses the exposed slurry wall, final beam and gigantic artifacts including fire engines, antennae parts, elevator motors and water valves. You can walk the outlines of the two building where only the Box Columns, or supporting beams remain. From there, you enter the Exhibition Hall which tells the story. Upon exiting, you can visit the Tributes for the victims and see a video on the site’s rebirth. Not everyone could handle this experience. Two women walked into the exhibit in front of me and after just two minutes they turned on their heels and rushed out. I overheard one say, “We don’t need to see this!” I assume they lost of a loved one. But some endured. For example, early in the exhibit there were videos that showed the command center that was set up in the North Tower lobby. A man and two women were watching beside me. Suddenly the man said, “There he is, oh God, there he is!” They waited for the video to loop again and when they saw him again, all three started to sob. My heart broke. I don’t know who the man in the video was, but he was someone dear to them. He was a brave firefighter who gave his life trying to save others. They held each other for a very long time.

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As I wandered through, I could hear various people telling their stories. “I was here then.” “I ran my ass off.” “I got out but my so many of my colleagues didn’t.” This was a constant murmur throughout my visit. Again, it was simply heartbreaking – I was glad I was alone. When I got to the In Memorium Hall, I watched as people touched the photos of their loved ones. I found the pictures of acquaintances’ lost husbands, fathers and mothers and paused to pay my respects. People were huddled at large touch screens that I didn’t really get at first. But when I went to sit in the square, dark theater I understood. You could go to the database, find your loved one and have their tribute displayed on the black wall. Each tribute included a short bio, snapshots and sometimes spoken words by a loved one. I sat through about 15 of them. I realized that the families were around me and I just wondered to myself, “How do they endure this?” Some seemed comforted; some just seemed to be scraped back across the old sharp edges of pain.

The first part of the exhibit was dedicated to the day. Two things stood out for me. When I ducked behind a discrete wall I found a scrolling photo album. Two firefighters were in there with me. I looked up and gasped, put my hand over my mouth and let the tears flow (much like the photos from that day of the people looking up at the horrors above). These photos told the story about the people who either jumped or fell to their deaths. The 9/12/01 issue of the New York Times published the now famous photo of a man falling headfirst. I remember seeing that front page and just falling apart. I don’t think I knew until that moment that people jumped. There it was, that picture, again in this museum, along with five or six others. One quote on the wall was a witness describing a woman who held her skirt before leaping. The person quoted called it such a display of humanity. I don’t know what to call it. I could only think, “What if that were me? How would I deal with the terror? Oh, those poor people to have to face this awful choice.” When I left this alcove a security guard offered me a tissue. She was clearly positioned there for that very reason. You just can’t see those photos without feeling the devastation of that day all over again. Sadly, those photos tell the story best about how the terrorist got what they wanted that day.

The second thing that struck me was the part of the exhibit that told the story of United Airlines Fight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, PA. A family of four was in the room with me as we watched the 6-minute film. The film played audio of some of the recordings from that episode (nothing that was terribly upsetting) but included a transcript of the last moments in the cockpit. This was both terrifying and uplifting. Terrifying to read the terrorists’ words, but uplifting to see the courage exhibited by the men and women on that plane. They fought those four terrorists and they won. They lost their lives but likely saved so many others. The family of four seemed to be angry. One of the women kept talking about how she’s lost all respect for some person whose name I did not get. I can only assume that it was the person in charge of that segment of the exhibit. I assume they were family members and did not like how the story was told. I don’t know, but it made me appreciate again, how hard this must be for the families and how nearly impossible it must have been to build this museum in a way that works for all.

After the story of the day, the exhibit attempted to explain what led up to the attacks. The pictures of the 19 hijackers are displayed off to the side, low on the wall and in small format. The background on Al Qaeda and the events leading to 9/11/01 are laid out. I didn’t spend much time here as I feel I’ve read quite a bit on this topic. The final part of the Exhibition Hall addressed the recovery and cleanup effort. This part really spoke to me and because it brought out what it felt like to be in New York after the 11th. The focus on the recovery effort was well done and really illustrated the amazing dedication of the people who worked on “the pile” and out at Fresh Kills to uncover as many human remains and possessions as they could. The most striking piece of this exhibit was the large piece of building structure called a Trident that now serves as a

Trident as Video Display of the Cleanup.

Trident as Video Display of the Cleanup.

screen that displays video of the bucket brigade and other workers who toiled 24×7 to search for victims and remove the mounds of debris. It brought back my experience of sitting in my south-facing SoHo loft, glued to the TV and unable to escape the smell of the fire down there.

Touching the survivor stairs

Touching the survivor stairs

There were so many people in uniform visiting that day. I followed a lone fire fighter down the stairs next to the Survivor Staircase and watched as he touched each and every step. I don’t know if he himself walked up or down those stairs but no doubt many of his colleagues did and too many never made it back down again that day. The neighborhood was swarmed this week by police, fire department and port authority men and women who had come to pay their respects. No doubt, The Reade Street Pub was bubbling with activity. They wore either their dress uniforms or a t-shirt emblazoned with their ladder or company logo. I saw so many huddled together, speaking in hushed tones. I don’t know what they were saying but no doubt they were remembering their fallen comrades. I also saw so many big, friendly hellos and hugs. I suspect that many of the family members have come to know one another very well over the last decade as they’ve attended meetings, ceremonies and remembrances. Bound by an event that we all wish never happened, there are no doubt strong ties.

I felt guilty as I admired the artistic beauty of the impossibly mangled steel beams that hung on the walls. These beams are a testament to the violence of the planes’ impact and destruction of the buildings as they fell. Frightening and beautiful all at once, even the most talented artist couldn’t create such overwhelming sculptures.

Twisted Beams

Twisted Beams

I watched the dedication ceremony last Thursday and if you haven’t seen it, you can click this link. It’s just one hour and was simply beautiful. I am so thankful that I got to see the Memorial Museum before the general public did. I felt that I was sharing in the reliving of these days with other people who also have this branded into their psyche. I think the Museum committee did a great job. This place is not for everyone and it is full of controversy (think gift shop, café and parties – I heard there was a party there last night), but 20, 50, 100 years from now it will tell our story. It will live on when all of us who were there are gone. It’s a story that must be told in all its grit and gore. My hope is that fundamentalist religions will not longer hijack faiths that are good and well meaning. President George W. Bush did a good job encouraging Americans to not vilify all Muslims and to recognize that the Islamic Faith is not to blame for the attacks. This speech plays in the Exhibition and I was glad to be reminded that he implored all of us to remember that the enemy is the terrorist organizations and the governments that support them, not Muslims.

It was a heart-wrenching experience but it wasn’t as difficult as I had expected. The Museum offers a delicate balance of telling the horror story of the terrorist attack and portraying human resilience and rebirth of the site. Forever and always I am proud to be an American and a New Yorker.

One of the surviving  World Trade Center Tridents

One of the surviving World Trade Center Tridents

World Trade Center Rising

IMG_1087.jpgI am deeply in love with this building. I’ve been snapping photos of the rise of the World Trade Center since the first steel beams poked up from the hole in the ground, back in Fall, 2009.

I lived in SoHo on September 11, 2001 and I’ll never forget the rancid air, the unspeakable smell and the pressing sadness all around me. In the weeks following that horrible day, I walked the city with my camera. Click here to see what I saw as I share my story of how I experienced 9/11.

On the day of we had clients in our 18th street office for a conference. The fellow who took care of things around the office ran in and said, “A plane hit the Empire State building!” Several of us calmly headed down the elevator and I remember hitting the down button and making some frivolous comments about the fact that some poor soul crashed his little plane into the building. Well, that was the final moment of innocence; when terrorism was just an occasional act that happened somewhere else, to someone else. I looked North and I breathed relief when I saw the Empire State Building shining bright white against that impossibly blue sky. Then I turned South and saw the long, fiery gash on the face of the North Tower. I immediately knew it wasn’t an accident. I remember saying to my colleagues, “we are being attacked.” I am obsessed with airplanes and knew that the pilot, even if he’d had a heart attack, would have put the plane down in the Hudson. The feeling was surreal when suddenly  the second strike happened and a massive orange fireball lunged toward me. My colleague said, “I saw a plane. It was a 737. It crashed into the building.” I stood there and the streets went crazy. We all went back upstairs. I emailed my Dad, my Mom and my boyfriend and my friends were emailing me – I wish I’d have saved those messages. But then email and the phones went dead. Some of my colleagues leaped into action – we had a team in the building. They didn’t stop until every person was accounted for and luckily all were fine. I huddled on the floor in front of the TV holding onto my friend Janice. Some people say they’ll never forget the sound of my scream when the first building fell. After the second one fell, I could hear the terror coming up from 6th Avenue. What to do? When it seemed time to go home about five of us gathered at my SoHo loft. We had to clear a security checkpoint to enter the neighborhood below Houston Street. That evening we started drinking and smoking and we didn’t stop until months later. It seemed Marlboros and Martinis were the only thing that worked. We bonded in a strange way and to this day I still call some of those people close friends.

Work didn’t really happen during the next several weeks but we all went to the office anyway and offered support and friendship. I wande57578431203_0_ALBred the city staring at the sad posters, listening to  emotion-fueled debates in Union Square and I heard the music everywhere —  guitarists strumming Dylan in Washington Square Park, a lonely bagpiper in the Village, a cellist carving his sorrowful piece on a SoHo sidewalk and the patrons at a restaurant breaking out a loud and proud rendition of America The Beautiful. I stood outside the Lexington Avenue Armory, the first place set up for the families. I can still replay in my head their angry, anguished voices crying out for their loved ones. The vivid memory of the driver of a black SUV who abruptly pulled over demanding to know where Saint Vincent’s Hospital was. When I pointed West, they uttered “OK, ok, thank you, thank you,” and peeled away.  A glimmer of hope amid so much sadness.

The sirens didn’t stop for days and days. I sat on the curb at Canal and Grand Streets and watched the Tribecan’s, or what looked like the walking dead, wheeling their big bags in search of a home. I watched the flat beds carting off huge, impossibly twisted steel beams; one after the other. I jogged by the spot where they loaded the debris onto barges and I noticed a hot water heater, barely dented — I thought about the water used by the people who perished with those buildings that day. I could peer down Greenwich Street and see the pile of the recognizable building facade, bowing gently sideways with ghostly haze of smoke dancing up to the sky.

I sat on my couch night after night, with Charlie, my traumatized cat (they said my building shook violently as each building fell), and cried. I couldn’t turn off the TV. I couldn’t shake the images of the horror scene that lay just about 10 blocks south. Eleven years later it’s still raw. I never work or fly on this day. I have the TV on and listen to the names and cry like it was the first time I’m hearing them. Even to this day on every 9/11 I walk the streets of Tribeca, my neighborhood now, and witness the families and first responders paying tribute to the lost ones.  I did not know any of the dead but some of my friends lost husbands, fathers, friends.

WorldTradeCenter-010Then somehow we recovered and life got back to normal. But I was forever changed, just like everyone else. The new building is a source of inspiration for me. It is a symbol of the beauty of the American people, our resilience, our optimism and our capacity to heal. It reminds me of my own strength and of my own resilience. It reminds me to live well each and every day and try to be a better person  — the least I can do for the nearly 3,000 people who can’t live their lives because they were murdered that day.

Those buildings were our nightlight and they were often unnoticed. The new building is so much more than that. I see it anew each time I look up at it. I know this place is sacred and it will always remind me of my most profound human experience. When I see the building I feel a welling up of this utter humanness and I want to cry and rejoice all at once. I wish for peace on Earth.