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My Dream for America

I was in New York City, Manhattan specifically, on 9/11/2001. I was at work, and my building was located at 57th street between 5th & 6th Avenues. This is an area of the city called “midtown”. Times square and Rockefeller center are also in midtown. At approximately 845am or so, my cube mate, Jenn, received a phone call from her boyfriend, now spouse. He said some idiot hit the world trade center with a Cessna. He told her and she immediately said to me “some idiot hit the world trade center with a Cessna”. There was a TV in the conference room, and we both got up from our desks and went there. The TV was already on, and there was an image of the 1st world trade center on fire up top with signs of a plane, which we thought was the Cessna. We stood there for about 15 minutes, others in the office joining in with awe, when all of a sudden we saw a giant jetliner crash into the 2nd world tower. It was at this moment we all knew what was happening. People started crying, the news readers immediately started changing their narratives. Many rumors started, such as there are 30 planes or 100 planes unaccounted for, there are planes headed for the Empire State Building and other landmarks. There were a few moments, I can’t remember how long, but we were deciding what to do with the remainder of the just beginning Tuesday. Were we supposed to go home, should we evacuate, was our building under threat? What was happening? One thing I remember clearly is the phones were overloaded and no one was able to make a phone call. Many people had cell phones in 2001, but I was not one of these people. Luckily, my Dad in Washington state was able to get through and found out that I was safe and not under immediate threat of the attacks. This created much ease in my family since their loved one was OK, I’m sure many other things were going through their minds, though.

After some time, perhaps 30 minutes or 2 hours, we decided to close the office. We evacuated by elevator and went home. I was lucky that I lived in Manhattan, so I had an easy walk home. Others had to walk across bridges to make it to their homes in the outer boroughs and suburbs. When we left the building, I arranged to meet my friend at her school, which was west and close to the Red Cross. We decided the best we could do was to see if we could be of service to the Red Cross in some way. We were in shock, we had no idea what to do, and our minds were simply focused on how we can help mitigate this disaster, and we did not know what disasters were to follow. I can’t remember when I heard about the pentagon and the other flight that crashed, but all this added to the terror. The subways stopped. There were buses but they were completely full of people, there were people hanging out the doors. Anyway, I walked west and hit 6th avenue. 6th avenue is a pretty straight street, you can see far down. The world trade center was probably 2 miles as the crow flies from my location. What I saw was a mass of people moving as quickly as they could uptown. I saw smoke. I saw great fear in people’s eyes. We were under attack. We were civilian victims of acts of war. Strangers came up to me covered in ashes and hugged me, and prayed that God would bless my family and me. I asked if there was anything I could do, and we all decided heading to the Red Cross on the Upper West Side was the best action to take. I first picked up my friend, Kim, who worked at a school on the upper west side. I picked up Kim and we headed to the Red Cross, but at least 4 blocks away from the Red Cross were workers telling us to leave. Someone even said “dead people don’t need your help, only your prayers”. Throughout this entire time, I had strangers hug me and say “God bless you” more times than I could count.

Kim and I decided to walk through Central Park to our apartment on the upper east side. The park was quiet, possibly a few walkers, but it was eerily quiet. It was a beautiful end of summer day but the sky was starting to turn grey. We made it to the east side, past 5th and Madison Avenues, and made it to Park Avenue. We had to stop for the light and looked towards Grand Central. It appeared there was a plume of smoke above Grand Central and both of us thought Grand Central had been hit by terrorists. We didn’t know the attack was over, we were sitting in limbo, not knowing what was next. I suppose we never know what’s next, but we especially did not know then.

Eventually we made it home and started watching the news. Grand Central had not been hit, that was only the smoke collecting from the world trade centers. But still, no one knew what was going on. People were shown jumping out of windows. It was a nightmare. The phones were not working well, but if I remember correctly, Kim got through to her Dad. My Dad had informed everyone in my family I was OK.

The day of September 11, 2001 passed, and it was tragic, but it seemed over with the 4 plane crashes. On September 12, 2001, I got up as normal and went to work. I decided to walk, the bus was yet again full of people and people were hanging out the doors. The subways were closed. I showed up to work and was immediately told to go home. There was no reason to work, the stock market was closed, New York City seemed closed, except for restaurants. I went home but also went out. See, I didn’t eat at home when I lived in NYC. After 9/11, at restaurants, we hugged, we made friends, we constantly told each other that we’re glad the other is safe. We had meals with waiters, bus boys, chefs. We helped hang posters of missing people, even though this action seemed fruitless. Everyday I’d look at those pictures hanging at bus stops and on poles of missing people, these pictures remained for months, and I honestly prayed that someone, anyone would be found. I was in awe of our leadership, of our law enforcement, of our fire fighters. I dined with strangers, I called people I hadn’t seen in a long time and we immediately embraced when we saw one other, fresh with the realization nothing is permanent. We recounted our stories of the day. We ate together, we ate with strangers, we all hugged and told each other that we love each other. Because we truly did. Many people started wearing American flag pins, nail salons were painting toes and fingers with American flags. We loved the country we lived in and had enough knowledge of history to know our founding fathers created something special, something we didn’t want broken. There were differing opinions. Some people said “we should flatten the middle east” and some people said “there’s a reason they attacked us, and it’s because we are bullies” and there were people who said it’s all a conspiracy theory of the government of the United States. However, no matter our opinion, we were all Americans. We loved each other, we ate together, we hugged, we kissed, we held hands, we shared stories, and we supported each other. There was no looting in NYC on 9/11/2001.

Even though September 11, 2001 will probably always (hopefully!) go down as the most frightening day of my life, I pray American attitude can return to these times. Where we love each other, where we are together, where we feel a sense of togetherness. The beauty of America is we love our differences.

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