Today is September 11, 2014. Thirteen years ago, America suffered one of the most brutal terrorist attacks ever perpetrated. The words “never forget” are on the lips and minds of many today, as this is one of history’s days when “where you were” at the moment of impact or of finding out about it is likely cemented in your memory. I sat down just now to write about where I was when the attacks occurred, but you know what? It doesn’t matter.
Where I was on September 11, 2001, doesn’t matter nearly as much as where I was not.
On September 11, 2001, I was not in the North Tower of New York City landmark development the World Trade Center. I was not there that morning at 8:46 AM when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 crashed violently into the building, tearing a hole in its side and killing everyone onboard. I was not in the World Trade Center’s South Tower at 9:03 AM when hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 crashed there, also killing everyone onboard.
I was not aboard United Airlines Flight 175 that morning, so I was not in the company of Ruth McCourt and her four-year-old daughter Juliana on the last day of their lives. I wasn’t there to hear Brian Sweeney call his wife, Julie, five minutes before the plane crashed into the tower and leave her this voicemail message:
“Hey Jules, this is Brian…ah, listen…I’m on an airplane that has been hijacked…if things don’t go well, and they’re not looking good, I want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, same with my parents. I’ll see you when you get here. I want you to know that I totally love you. Bye, babe, hope I will call you.”
I was not on American Airlines Flight 11, where Paige Farley-Hackel sat, possibly thinking about her friend Ruth McCourt and Ruth’s four-year-old daughter Juliana and unable to know exactly how dire and identical their circumstances were, flying in separate airplanes to embark upon the same vacation. The two ladies had planned to fly together, but Paige changed to American Flight 11 to take advantage of frequent flier miles. They were going to meet up in LA and take little Juliana to Disneyland.
On September 11, 2001 I was not on American Airlines Flight 77 to meet the Falkenberg family. Charles and Leslie Falkenberg were traveling with their daughters, eight-year-old Zoe and three-year-old Dana. The entire family was headed to Australia, where Leslie was to be a visiting fellow at Australian Univeristy. The entire family.
On that day I was not at the Pentagon, our nation’s headquarters for the Department of Defense, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into its Western side, claiming the lives of more than one hundred of our servicemen and women, including Captain Gerald DeConto of the United States Navy.
And I was not on United Airlines Flight 93, which was headed for San Francisco but redirected in the direction of Washington, DC, by the hijackers who took it over. I was not there to be a part of the brave group of both passengers and flight crew who banded together to formulate a plan to overcome the hijackers, ultimately crashing the plane in Pennsylvania instead of in our nation’s capital. I didn’t hear Todd Beamer lead the group in reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm before commencing the takeover attempt with the words “Let’s roll.” I wasn’t there to hear Lauren Grandcolas leave a voicemail of her own, telling her husband “I’m OK. I just want to tell you, there’s a little problem with the plane. I’m fine. I’m totally fine. I just want to tell you how much I love you.” Lauren was three months pregnant.
On September 11, 2001, I was not in New York City, my hometown and place of my birth. I was not there as so much of it choked on thick black smoke and was covered in falling ash and debris. I did not watch as first responders of the NYFD answered that call on what would be the last day of so many of their lives. The 9/11 terror attacks are the deadliest firefighter disaster in the history of the United States.
Where I was doesn’t matter at all in the legacy of September 11th. I am able to be here and write this today because of where I wasn’t, not because of where I was. Where I actually was, was in LA, in a cozy apartment in West Hollywood, where I was living at the time. Given the time difference and what would be considered a normal wake-up time, I woke up to the news coverage on TV a few hours after the first plane hit. I sat on the floor alone and in shock, not able to understand what I was seeing. The constant replays of the buildings falling didn’t register at all in the part of my brain that is equipped to process reality. I tried to call my loved ones in Lower Manhattan and stared at the phone chirping the sound that all signals were blocked in utter confusion. All I could do was stare at the TV in silence. And one thought replayed in my mind: All of those people…
Today is September 11, 2014. Thirteen years ago, America survived one of the most brutal terrorist attacks ever perpetrated. I have named but a handful of the thousands of lives cut short in despicable acts of evil on this day in 2001. I honor every memory and we who are still here pay tribute with sadness and respect. We move forward.
And we never forget.