Sunday, September 11, 2011
A Decade Later
Ten years ago, I was getting ready for work when my phone rang. The college intern working the early shift in the newsroom said in an uncertain voice, “LA called? They said I needed to call everyone and make sure you were aware of what was going on? In New York?”
Fifteen minutes later, I was driving to work with my wet hair in a ponytail, listening to a live broadcast of the collapse of one of the towers. My mind flipped through its internal rolodex of everyone I knew who resided or worked in New York, then in Washington D.C., then Pennsylvania.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. I do not remember many specifics, just the constant feeling that my colleagues on the East Coast needed help to cover this monumental story, but it felt like there was little those of us on the West Coast could do. Planes were grounded, there was no way to send reporters or photographers to assist them. We did what we could, which was not enough.
I do remember the exact place where I finally broke down and started sobbing, where I had to pull my car over after 12 hours at work listening to stories of loss and horror.
I think it was about three weeks later when my husband and I stood nervously in line at Virgin Air in San Francisco International Airport, waiting to fly to London for a long-planned vacation. We had asked about canceling, but the airline said no refunds. It was only our second time taking an overseas vacation and we had saved for a year for this trip, so we went – despite our mothers’ pleas to reconsider.
What I remember most about the trip to England was how we were greeted. It seemed as though we were the only tourists foolish enough, or broke enough, to keep our travel plans. We had the country to ourselves. And each time we met someone, our American accents gave us away.
“So terrible, dear, what happened,” a store clerk said, placing a consoling hand on mine as I paid for a purchase. Her eyes welled up with tears and so did mine.
In York, a small shrine was set up in front of the cathedral, small American flags among the flowers, candles, and notes. In small towns, our flag was displayed in stores, in windows, and in public squares.
The fear and horror of that first day eventually faded, replaced by deep sadness for the families and friends of those who died. But the feeling of solidarity and sympathy is what stays with me after a decade. The goodwill of friends I didn’t know I had, many of whom had lived through terrible attacks on their homeland. That remains and still inspires me.
While it is not always possible to hold the hand of someone touched by a disaster – man-made or natural – if you are so inclined, please consider reaching out in solidarity and support to those who need help:
Partners in Health
Doctors Without Borders
American Red Cross
Don’t know where to start researching charitable organizations? You might check:
Charity Watch (American Institute of Philanthropy).