I lived in New Jersey then, had lived there my entire life up to that point. New York City was the big brother my part of New Jersey looked up to, idolized. We cheered their baseball, football, and hockey teams and viewed them as our own. An hour on the train put the bright lights of Broadway and world-class restaurants, museums, and attractions at our feet. Secure in the protective shadow it cast, we enjoyed the bragging rights Manhattan’s proximity provided.
The news came over the radio as I eased my car into a parking space on that crystal blue September morning. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. In my mind’s eye, I pictured a private business jet. A Cessna; perhaps a Gulfstream. I wondered how many people they held. I don’t remember thinking about the building itself or what such a crash could mean to those inside. It was Manhattan, the World Trade Center, after all. Invincible.
Disturbed but not yet grasping the full impact of the situation, I entered my office building and asked the receptionist if she’d heard. She nodded and indicated that some of our co-workers were watching the news on the television in the kitchen. I joined them and watched in horror as the second full-sized commercial jetliner hit. Frozen into shocked silence, a female manager in a male-dominated home-building company, I struggled to contain my emotions, failing only when I noticed the tears streaming down the bearded face of my friend and Construction Department counterpart, a tough and stalwart veteran of an industry full of tough and stalwart men.
That moment was a portent of the changes to come in the ensuing days. Every wall between us, male/female, rich/poor, black/white, left/right, shattered on that day, at least for a short while, and we were all simply Americans.
I pray one day we will once again experience the unity, without the pain and grief, of September 12th.