Everyone has their 9/11 memories. These are mine. Originally published in 2011. Republished, again, today in honor of those who died, and those who did their best to help others live.
On Sept. 11, 2001, in Auckland, New Zealand, my home since 1993, I was about to back out of my driveway and go to work. What I heard on the radio made my blood run cold.
I stumbled back into the house and told my Singaporean wife. All she could say was, “What? What? Oh no.”
I felt confused and bamfoozled. I didn’t know whether to go to work or call my family in Oklahoma or get on a plane. I mean, what the hell do you do?
I went to work, listening to radio news and feeling like a stunned mullet. As a P.R. pro, I should have been thinking about the impact on my NZ clients, about what to advise them to do. But when I got to work, all I could do was watch the towers collapsing over and over and over and over and over and over again. I’d make a few calls and go back to the TV. When a plane hit the Pentagon, I thought, “When Eli was born, we lived two miles from there. Two freaking miles from there.”
I prayed. I went to Mass. I prayed some more. I could not believe what had happened. I wondered about my best man and reporting buddy from Waco years. He’d been a big dog in the Big Apple for awhile. If he survived, I knew he’d be in the apex. Back when he was a Texas journalist, he was the “Master of Disaster” who “loved the smell of napalm in the morning.” And now, he’d be smelling it. Or he’d be dead. Oh, Dear Lord, no.
I remember thinking, my buddy IS alive and will know what to do. He will act heroically. As for me, all I could think was: “This is too huge. I don’t know what to do. What the hell do you do?”
I was amazed at Rudy Giuliani. What balls.
And now, that’s all I remember about Sept. 11: Watching TV. Praying. Feeling helplessly surreal. Worrying about my buddy. Fearing even worse acts of terrorism. And feeling very guilty for thinking, “At least we’re safe down here at the bottom of the world.”
Seven years ago, I visited New York City with my then 18-year-old son. My buddy showed us around the Big Apple, including Ground Zero. He shared his memories. He still had the taste of 9/11 in his mouth; it just would not go away. As he told me that, he turned away, and a tear tracked down his face.
And now, it’s 13 years since the murderous, cowardly 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden is long dead. Countless heroic NYC police, fire and emergency officials have died or still battle PTSD or lung disease. A shiny skybunker is rising from Ground Zero. I find myself waiting for another terror strike by crazy jihaders. I wonder how people in Israel live under constant threat. But, then again, I guess that’s what you have to do in NYC, every day.
Blessings on the innocents, the first-responders who showed such courage on 9/11, and on their survivors who have to live through this tragedy again today, and every day.
Lord have mercy.