Five years ago today, two airplanes were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers as another hit the Pentagon and yet another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
This post isn't going to be a political polemic though. It's going to be about me and why this event has significance in my life.
The first part I'll tell is where I was and what I was doing that day. The following was written on Thursday, September 20, 2001 and had been posted on my 9-11 memorial site, It Was a Beautiful Day in September . . . (The host for that site went out of business and I haven't re-created it yet on another hosting site, which is why I'm putting this here instead of just linking to it.)
It was Primary Day in New York City.
I was working as an election inspector representing my political party for the first time. Every electoral district must have two representatives from each of the two major parties present to ensure a fair election. If a voter needs assistance in casting his or her ballot, a representative from each party must accompany the voter into the booth -- this is to ensure that the voter's choice of candidate is not influenced by either party.
After the fiasco of the 2000 presidential election, I considered it my civic duty to do what I could to make sure the elections (at least in MY district) were as fair as humanly possible.
I arrived at my local polling place at 5:30 am to ready the voting machines so that votes could be cast as soon as the polls opened at 6. I was paired with more experienced workers who showed me what to do. As I helped each voter in my district exercise his right as a citizen, I thanked them for participating in their democracy.
It had always disturbed me that voter turnout was low and often half the populace or more never bothered to to exercise his/her Consitutional rights as a citizen of the United States of America. Corny as it may sound, I did feel a glow from being an active participant in the electoral process and helping others to participate too. I considered it my duty as a citizen.
Reports of a horrible accident surfaced just before 9 -- apparently a plane had struck the antenna on top of one of the World Trade Center towers. I wondered what could have happened for a plane to have been flying that low.
Shortly thereafter, the story changed to that of TWO planes having struck the Twin Towers. I thought that perhaps there had been some kind of mid-air collision and the planes had fallen onto the Towers.
People began to discuss what a horrible accident it must have been and how dangerous flying could be as they signed by their name in the voter list book and cast their votes.
Then we were told the horrifying news -- the Pentagon was on fire. The White House was on fire. We were under attack by terrorists. The two planes had been deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers and they were ablaze.
I felt panic and excused myself from the table temporarily as I tried to use my cellphone to call my boyfriend who lives across from UN headquarters in Manhattan and walks his dogs right in front of the building several times a day. I was afraid that the UN might be the next target and I needed reasurrance that he was OK.
I could not get a signal on my cellphone, despite trying in several places and even outside, where ordinarily I had no trouble using my phone.
I tried the payphone, only to find out the line was dead.
That was very frightening.
No one knew what was happening -- the place was in an uproar.
A fellow inspector at my district table was beside herself with worry -- her granddaughter was supposed to be flying that morning and she was afraid that her grandchild might have been on one of those planes. She too could not get through to anyone. She was holding back tears without great success.
I was completely, totally, absolutely freaked out.
I managed to finally get a cellphone signal and got my boyfriend's machine & left a message asking him to call me back to let me know he was OK. I tried to get through to a friend who works in Manhattan and often travels to the WTC on business to no avail. Then I started to worry about friends who worked in the World Trade Center and the surrounding area.
Then the news broke that one of the Towers had collapsed.
I began to get frantic -- I called my darling again and this time got him. My relief was palpable. He told me that what had happened was "a horror -- an absolute fucking horror" -- he had been watching the news reports of what had just occurred. We talked for a bit and then I tried to reach other friends using my cellphone, since the payphone was still out. I left messages on their machines and prayed that they were OK.
The next thing I heard was someone shouting out, "The other Tower has collapsed!"
I didn't know what to think anymore -- I was just stunned.
By this time, we were no longer letting people in to cast votes. Everything was in a lockdown mode -- the policeman on duty told us that all the bridges & tunnels into Manhattan had been shut down, as had the Long Island Expressway and several other major roadways. He said policemen and firemen from all over the city were rushing to the scene and he himself could be withdrawn from his post at the polling place at any moment. The schools were all locked down too -- for the safety of the children, since no one knew if maybe the terrorists had also placed bombs in school buildings to instill that extra little frisson of terror.
I couldn't help but think of the third "Die Hard" movie and hoped it would not become reality.
Shortly thereafter the site coordinator told us that she had heard from the Board of Elections that we were to close the polls early and go home. The primary had been cancelled.
By now the payphone was working and the election inspector with the granddaughter in flight had found out that her grandchild was not on one of the ill-fated flights and that all flights across the United States had been grounded.
We quietly tallied the votes -- 42 in my district -- and left for our homes.
It was 11:30 am.
The beauty of the day outside seemed obscene in light of the morning's events.
I walked home and turned on the TV and saw footage of what had occurred. The only bright spot was that some of what I had been told at the polling place was not true -- the White House was not hit and was not ablaze.
I spent the rest of the day and night trying to contact friends and relatives to see if they were alright and to let them know that I was OK.
A side effect of the morning's events was that the entire phone system had gone wonky. It was easier for me to call someone in New Jersey or Florida than it was to call someone in Queens only a mile or two away.
I either got a busy signal, a phone that rang endlessly even though I knew the person had a functioning answering machine, or an "all circuits are busy -- please try your call again later" message. I got that message a lot.
A friend in New Jersey was kind enough to offer to help out in making calls on my behalf -- I later heard from quite a few people that they tried to call and couldn't get through. Some people I was able to contact through e-mail, others I spoke to myself or heard from a friend or relative that they were fine.
I had been particularly concerned about a few people -- one who worked in a building next door to the World Trade Center (she was one of the people evacuated to New Jersey's Liberty State Park), my cousin in San Francisco who flies to the East Coast a lot on business & who I was afraid might have been on the Newark to SF flight (he wasn't, thank goodness!) and one who is a firefighter -- I was afraid he might have been one of the hundreds of police, fire and rescue workers caught in the collapse (I later found out he was OK).
I was worried for days about some people until we were finally able to connect. I am happy to say that no one I know personally was seriously hurt, although some had very scary stories to tell and some went to the hospital but lived to tell the tale.
Bridges, roads and tunnels into Manhattan were sealed off for days as the city went into a complete lockdown. Phones could not consistently get you through to the party with whom you wished to speak, long-distance was a hit-or-miss proposition and speaking to someone in Manhattan was a near impossibility.
As I write this just over a week later, I still have inconsistent phone service and my Internet connection is still somewhat unstable -- I tend to get disconnected a lot. I find out via e-mail that people still cannot get through to me.
Smoke still rises from the site where the Twin Towers used to stand -- there is a visible hole in the New York skyline now. I see it everytime I drive into Manhattan on the now-reopened Long Island Expressway.
It is especially discouraging to see the black smoke casting a pall over the island at sunset, when the skyline is at its most beautiful.
There are varying thoughts about what to do with the site.
Some would have it become a memorial park, others would like to rebuild.
Those who wish to rebuild too have differences of opinion on what they would like to see on the site. Some would rebuild the Towers, or even make them higher.
Others, including the owner, Silberstein Properties, have much more . . . modest . . . proposals. Mr. Silberstein has proposed a set of four 50-story towers -- each of these would be less than half the Twin Towers former glorious height of 110 stories (not counting the antenna) and as far as I am concerned, were the World Trade Center to be rebuilt in this . . . diminished . . . fashion, it would stand as a symbol of America having been "cut down to size" and humbled by the terrorists, at least as far as I am concerned.
I would prefer the Twin Towers to rise again, surpassing their former height, and once more be the tallest buildings in the world. This would be a better symbol of America, I think, for America rises from what appears like defeat and overcomes all obstacles to become stronger than ever.
That, to my mind, would be an appropriate way of rebuilding the World Trade Center.
Non carborundum bastardi -- don't let the bastards wear you down.
The second part of my tale has to do with the significance of the WTC for me.
If you were to read my LiveJournal userinfo page, you might notice that I mention being a chemist. The field I have worked in the most over the years was as a water-treatment chemist, working with the chemicals that are put into HVAC systems to prevent them from turning into piles of rust or having the tap water be rusty or having the cooling sytem contaminate the building with Legionnaire's disease. (The HVAC systems are the ones that heat and cool a building -- boilers and cooling towers and the pumps and pipework that connect them to one another.)
As a water-treatment chemist, some of my duties were to act as a supervisory chemist to the building maintenance staff of some of the larger facilities we worked with, like the NY Stock Exchange building or Riker's Island Prison or Yankee Stadium or La Guardia or Kennedy Airports.
The World Trade Center was one of the facilities I handled.
And it almost cost me my life.
Something that gets forgotten at times is that the Twin Towers were bombed twice. And in 1993, I was supposed to be on the other side of the wall from the truck bomb, having a meeting with the building maintenance staff at the time that bomb went off.
Due to the intervention of the gods, that meeting was re-scheduled and I was elsewhere then, otherwise my name would have been one of the ones on a plaque at Ground Zero. As it was, I ended up doing the piping diagrams and specs for rebuilding the damaged HVAC systems.
Damn sight better than being a ghost, that.
So when the second bombing occurred and the Towers fell, it was like re-living my own close call all over again. Even afterwards, for years I avoided that area.
I've healed enough since that post was written that I have been able to go to Ground Zero. I've been there with thevamp_hirudo and his family, haeger and j_bean101 and her daughter, as part of showing them the landmarks of New York City.
I still don't go there on my own though.
I might be a street or two away, running an errand or visiting a friend who works nearby for lunch or doing some shopping, but I still try not to go to Ground Zero itself, if I can avoid it. And I usually can. But at least now I feel that I can go there, if I want to.
One of the things I had on my old It Was a Beautiful Day in September . . . site was a guestbook for people to write what their own personal experiences of that day were, as a kind of record for others to read in future. I particularly want other pagans to tell their stories there, since the pagan perspective on these events is overlooked far too often, even when religious responses are talked about. This guestbook has been linked to other 9/11 memorial and historical sites as part of a network recalling the events of that day -- telling your story in it means that visitors to those sites have a chance to read the events of that day from the pagan point of view as well as hearing about it from the perspective of those who are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist.
You've heard my story -- now tell yours.