In September of 2001, I was vacationing in Maine because the price of ocean front properties dropped substantially after Labor Day.
This graphic, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the most horrific terror attacks on US soil, inspired me to reflect on the events of that week.
In September of 2001, I was vacationing in Maine because the price of ocean front properties dropped substantially after Labor Day. My brother, who worked in the World Trade Center across the street from the North Tower, called to tell me that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers. He wasn’t at work because my nephew had earned himself detention and needed a parental escort. Not for lack of trying, I didn’t speak to him again for three days.
So I remained glued to the television, watching the events unfold. It was very disconcerting to learn that two of the terrorists had been minutes away in Greater Portland and were videotaped in the Portland International Jetport just before boarding the plane that would take them to Boston. It was there that they met up with three other terrorists, boarded and hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, and crashed it into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
My ocean view that until recently had been invigorating and therapeutic, now made me feel threatened and vulnerable. And outside, you couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was. Not pleasantly rural quiet but rather surrealistically and impossibly quiet.
Maineiacs are very special people. In the aftermath of the attacks, memorial services were organized, firemen collected money on the roads and contributed equipment, and the shop owners in Old Portdonated a percentage of their proceeds to help New York City.
The planes were still grounded when it was time to go home but I was in possession of a coveted commodity: a rental car. Rules governing rental cars were suspended so I drove for about eight hours and returned the car to a local airport, where it was total mayhem. I was stopped at a checkpoint and interrogated while my belongings and vehicle were thoroughly searched. Then I was forced to abandon the car far away from the hangars and terminals and find my ride home on foot.
When I finally got home, I had a week’s worth of newspapers to read. The events from a newspaper perspective were quite different from the television coverage and I spent most of the day assimilating history. In addition to a more detailed accounting, I learned that two local residents had lost their lives: one was in the World Trade Center and the other, a survivor of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, ironically was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
When I returned to work, I found a “coping” packet on my desk; I can’t remember how long we wore those company issued American flag pins. I was surprised to learn just how many people knew or knew of someone who worked at the World Trade Center. Just like John Corey, a fictional Nelson DeMille character who made a life altering decision on his way to the restaurant at the top of the North Tower, coworkers were still sharing stories about the quirk of fate that prevented a loved one from being in the wrong place at the wrong time: a change in work shift, a sick kid, an off-site business meeting, a job change, or simply a late arrival.
My brother was part of the team charged with getting his company functional again and he found it extremely difficult to get to his place of work due to all the additional security in the area. When employees were finally able to return to work, they needed counseling sessions before they could become productive again. And although the environment was toxic, people were buying tickets to view the devastation, mostly getting in the way of those trying to clean it up. Even when I was in the area, I could never bring myself to go there but I learned it was an irresistible draw to out-of-towners.
Reflecting Absence, the memorial design by Michael Arad, is intended to be viewed from above but few ever get to see it that way. A plaza of swamp white oaks arranged in rows form informal areas to remember and reflect. Two reflecting pools, each 192 feet by 192 feet, overlap with the footprints of the World Trade Center towers, giving presence to buildings that today exist as ghosts, unforgettable, but absent. The names of the victims of the attacks (including those from the Pentagon, the rural Pennsylvania crash, and the World Trade Center bombing) are inscribed on the parapets surrounding the 30-foot waterfalls.
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