In September of 2001, it was called “the pile” by those who were part of the rescue and recovery. When it was emptied in May of 2002 it would become “the pit.” Today it is called “the plaza”. And in September of 2001, when the firefighters from Squad 41 would ask me if I wanted to visit what had been the World Trade Center, they would say “do you want to go to the site?” The WTC was 6 buildings on 16 acres with the seventh building across the street. It was a city within a city. When it was built there was more office space at the WTC than in the entire city of Detroit. Hundreds of thousands of people worked, commuted and/ or visited the WTC on any given day. And after September 11, 2001 it is reduced to the simplest of terms – the pile, the pit, the plaza, the site.
I had only been to the World Trade Center twice in my entire life before September 28, 2001. As a teen, I remember catching the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train there once. Actually missing the train because after a certain time the schedule changed and “we” didn’t realize that. This was years before cell phones so I would end up getting home later than my curfew. I remember telling my dad this long story about getting there too late for the train and having to wait an hour and on and on. My dad finally said “Well, this has to be true because you don’t have a good enough imagination to have made it up!” Wow thanks, dad!?! My second visit to the World Trade Center would be July 4, 1976. Bruce, his sister and her husband and I would go to the “top” of 2WTC. I remember the elevator traveling faster than I could believe. It was an incredible view but it was scary. I also remember than people had said you are crazy to travel into the city on July 4. It was the 200th birthday of our nation so there were tall ships, celebrations, etc. But we actually made great time getting into the city and the lines for the observation deck were not long. After our visit we would find a pier to stand on and watch the fireworks which were so far in the distance that there was no sound – my kind of fireworks. On July 4, 2011, I would relate that story and my September 11 story to young people from South Africa, Ireland, USA and Israel. That opportunity would be one of the most profound experiences in my life.
On Friday September 28 ,2001 we would journey into NYC to visit “the site”. A firefighter from Squad 41 would come to my home to escort us. Squad 41 had left a FDNY 15 seat passenger van at my home in case I needed to go somewhere. In a lighter moment my daughters had joked that we could drive around and pick up their friends and head to the mall – not!! Our group would be made up of my sister and her husband, my other sister, who had flown in from CA , myself and my 2 daughters. We would travel to the Brooklyn Naval Yard. It would be a long journey. Traffic was moving slow. There was military on the bridges. When we arrived at the Brooklyn Naval Yard we would board a boat. It was one of those cruise around the harbor party type boats. I remember thinking that the boat looked sad. No blinking twinkle lights, no people in their fancy evening attire, no music or drinks. Our small group was joined by another family, Red Cross volunteers and a NYPD chaplain. My daughters would each be given teddy bears. And we were given bagged lunches with notes from school children inside. When we arrived at what I now know is the marina at the World Financial Center, we would disembark and walk over to Liberty and West Streets. There were many little sailboats in the marina that were covered with grey ash and pieces of paper. The National Guard was there and they took their hats off as we walked by. That was humbling. The Red Cross would give us little packs of tissues and a map so you could understand where you were standing and where the buildings had been. I remember commenting “wow, the Red Cross has tissues with their name and logo”. I think that was my mind trying to keep me from being overwhelmed. To be honest I would not understand anything about where I stood or where the buildings had been, until I started doing tours for the Tribute Center. Today I can retrace my steps of September 28 but on September 28 I was just following our FDNY escorts and keeping an eye on my daughters to make sure they were okay.
The site looked like war. It was like a bad war movie. Old movies of World War II or photos from that same era were the only point of reference I had to make sense of it. What I had seen of the site on television was nothing compared to what it looked like. It was total devastation and it was huge. It was very loud because the heavy equipment was there. There was smoke because the fires were still burning. There was a pregnant woman in our group and they gave her a paper mask to put on. I don’t know how long we stood there. My brain couldn’t process it. I kept looking at the map but it didn’t help. The NYPD chaplain would state that he was going to read the 23rd Psalm. And he did. And then he said he was going to recite the Lord’s Prayer and we were welcome to join him. After we recited the Lord’ Prayer, I realized that no one had said “Oh excuse me. I don’t know if we can say that here.” I realized that I had stood at the World Financial Center in NYC and the word of God had been spoken. And the Bible states “my word will not return void.” Thank you, thank you.
Thank you for sharing. Susy Flory shared this on facebook. I met her at the Writer’s Conference in Castro Valley last month. You helped me visualize the scene when you evoked the image of World War II movies. Both my father and father in law were in the war and had personal photos that are seared in my mind. Sharing the story of your family brought me to an emotional understanding of the devastation it caused you and your family and an awareness that the physical devastation you describe is a mere shadow of the towering emotional and spiritual devastation that it caused those who were sadly directly involved and also our nation and our world.
Your mention of the WWII brought to my mind a story my dear mother-in-law told me about watching a news real in a theater prior to the movie. It showed the physical devastation, and she sat paralyzed, terrorized by the thought that her husband Joe was there in the mist of the horror she saw on the screen. Her faith through prayer comforted her and kept her strong. I pray for peace for your family and for our world. I will try to bring my prayer to action by working toward peace each day by treating others with love, compassion and and fairness. Thank you so much for giving me motivation and for spreading peace through sharing your story.
Elizabeth, Thank you so much for sharing a little of your story with me. Your prayers for my family and our world make a difference.