When we listen to those who speak and honor the victims of 9/11, one fact is often neglected. It does not surface in our sound-bite-media world. As this historical event recedes toward the back pages of history, it represents an important element worthy of reflection.
Thousands of civilians, many of whom were mothers and fathers, were slaughtered. From the towers of New York City to the offices of the Pentagon to the crash site in Pennsylvania, none of them saw it coming. No one could have imagined the scale of the attack prior to 9/11 but for those of us who lived and worked in Manhattan, we questioned when and where the next attack would unfold. Some of us have never stopped asking.
What is also disheartening, 18 years beyond this tragedy, relates to the families who lost a loved one in the attack. Those who were born shortly before or after the attacks are applying to or now enrolled in college. Some are working fulltime. All of them are entering adulthood.
Time itself, as one ages, seems to accelerate for reasons I cannot fully explain. It feels like an unraveling coil of paper, but in order to keep up, it must spool forth at a faster clip to keep pace when it nears its end. The days of our youth seem longer in hindsight and provide richer detail in color, texture and scent.
I cannot recall a day in my life, however, that was longer or more arduous that 9/11. My hearts go out to those civilian parents who will never have their chance to see their children grow up. Perhaps older victims were at the tail end of their career, near retirement, and looking forward to spending quality time with their grandkids. How many pregnant women fell prey to the maniacs?
Then there are the terrorists. Those wretched souls who followed a skewed version of Islam that promoted mass murder; they were lemmings who sacrificed themselves and took orders from a cave-dwelling false prophet.
The memories of that day were punctuated with sights and smells not unlike the vivid days of one’s youth. I recall the scramble I made to call friends to see if they were alive. I remember fighter jets screeching over the skies of Manhattan, circling, for potential threats that came in the form of commercial airplanes. I watched them from the rooftop of my apartment building and screamed for them to hit back… to hit anything.
I remember being at work and watching the towers fall and hearing rumors about other planes that were out of contact. No one, not even the news services, could verify all flights were accounted for. We literally watched the skies to see if anything else would crash into the buildings or streets of Manhattan.
Another memory was a coworker whose fiancé worked for Rescue Company #1, which represented 9/11’s original first responders. These brave souls were the first group of rescuers to enter the towers. I was there the moment my coworker received the news and the obvious assumption that was made at that moment; It was utter chaos.
I recall the smell of burning sulfur permeating the air of Manhattan as southern breezes blew north from ground zero. Weeks later, you could still catch a whiff on the right day, which represented a sequence of wrong days, wrong weeks and months.
I recall one friend who walked outside his office building, which was adjacent to the twin towers. He asked himself why he was staring at a smoldering airplane engine on the ground in the courtyard outside his building.
I recall another story shared with me about one person who lived by JFK airport, who refused to come out of his basement… for weeks. He remained terrified and certain that another attack was imminent. Friends and family had to bring him food and water.
I remember a friend telling me how he and others, who fled when the second tower collapsed, had no other place to go and were pinned down in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. They had to jump into the Hudson River and swim to get away but were later rescued by the Coast Guard.
I recall a friend who worked at Marsh Mclennan in midtown, but he happened to have a rare meeting scheduled at the company’s World Trade Center office on the morning of 9/11. They worked on one of the top floors of Tower #1. He chose, instead, to eat the bagel he purchased outside the shop where he bought it. Had he chosen otherwise, and gone up early to the meeting, he would have never had met his wife, married, move to the burbs or have the chance to raise two wonderful kids. And, I would have not have had the honor of him being present at my wedding three years later.
All these things… happened.
As we look forward, my hope is we remember those innocent civilian victims and honor them by doing the same in our lifetime by being the best parents we can be. That, in this case, is remembering how lucky we are to have the opportunity to parent our children. It’s a blessing just to be here. The opportunity to raise our kids represents a treasure in and of itself.
If you’re familiar with this blog, and the manuscript behind it, it is centered on the following: The Father Apprentice is dedicated to men experiencing fatherhood for the first time who may not have had fathers themselves growing up.
If this blog offers even a single positive suggestion to a new dad, perhaps someone who may have lost a parent on 9/11 or was killed in action while serving in the armed forces, then it’s mission accomplished on my end.
Let us never take life for granted and treasure the time we have with our children.