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Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I was following my usual morning routine on the morning of September 11, 2001. I'd awakened early, taken a shower, and had turned on the TV to CNN to listen to the news while I checked email on my computer. As I watched the first tower burn, my first thought was that there was a new movie trailer on and the special effects were fantastic. Then, when I realized I was watching a real fire and heard the frantic report that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I felt incredibly sad for the people who had surely lost their lives in what appeared to be a terrible accident. Glued to the set now, I watched another plane plow into the other tower and realized, in horror, that this was no accident - this was an attack.

And that's when the panic set in. My son and future daughter-in-law were in that city.

I'm usually pretty good about staying off the phone in emergencies. Wildfires and earthquakes hit the town where my parents live too frequently, but I usually give it a few hours before I try to call to confirm that they're OK. Not on 9/11, though. I called my son on his cell phone, breathed a sigh of relief when he answered. Then about lost it when he said that his fiance had already left for work in Manhattan and he didn't know where she was. It took three hours to track her down and get her back home. She had already boarded the train out of Brooklyn and, 80 blocks away from home but not yet in in Manhattan, they had stopped the train and told everyone to get off. Of course, the passengers had no idea what had happened, just that it had to be something bad. Finally, they made cell phone contact and started walking to each other, returning home to watch the news with the rest of us.

My son's school (in the Village/Soho area) was in, he told us later, what they called the "fallout zone" and the building was used for three weeks as one of the centers where the families of victims would come to see if there was any news of survivors. He had classes for the rest of the semester on Sundays to get in all the hours he needed to graduate in June of 2002.

He still doesn't talk about it.

He does say that he hates George Bush with a passion for his "go on with your lives" attitude and his posing on the rubble. People who were not there cannot possibly imagine what it was like for the survivors in NYC. All debris and stench aside, they "went on with their lives" surrounded by grief and knowing there was a possibility that, at any time, another plane could crash down upon them.

I've given a lot of thought over the last seven years to the nature of heroism. If you go to work like you always do and are killed instantly in such an attack, does that make you a hero or just a tragic victim? It seems to me that heroism takes some effort, some battle with fear. Are there degrees of heroism? If all the victims of 9/11 are to be considered heroes, who is more heroic - the workers who stayed at their desks waiting for the all clear but who died in the collapse, or the workers who jumped from the windows to escape the fires? Firefighters are always to be considered heroic for their willingness to give their lives in the fulfillment of their commitment to public safety, but wasn't it more heroic to go into tower two knowing that tower one had fallen and there was a possibility that the second tower would go, too?

Isn't there some level of heroism for the New Yorkers who went on with their lives? The students who had to find other places to live for three weeks when they were told it was too dangerous to stay in their dorms, and the people who took them in.

We were in NYC for my son's graduation the following May (2002). I loved the city more than I thought I would. My fondest thoughts and wishes for peace go to NYC on this day of remembrance.

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