Where Were You on 9/11?

Where were you on September 11?

For many in my generation, 9/11 was our JFK moment.  I remember hearing my parents recite exactly where they were and what they were doing when they received the news that President Kennedy had been shot.  I am sure many of you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when the news of the twin towers in New York hit.

For me, I was in New York.  I was working in the Pediatric Department of a New York hospital.  I remember arriving to work and looking at the TV in the lobby, thinking I needed to change the content due to the violent nature, when I realized it was “live.”

Within minutes we were all gathered to hear the terrible news; an airplane had struck one of the Twin Towers.  A group of us physicians went to the window where we witnessed the second airplane hitting the second tower.  Internal alarms and immediate calculations started to occur in all our minds.  How many survivors, how long before they arrived in our hospital, was there going to be another plane…

We were put on “red alert” and told that we would likely need to make our way to donate blood at some point in the day.  Meanwhile, there were sick children, confused and scared parents, and the day to day work of caring, diagnosing and treating to be done.

To be honest, the rest of the day was a blur.  I would receive updates when I emerged out of a treatment room only to go back in with another sick child.  The day passed somehow and then we started to wait.  We waited and waited for survivors.  But there were none.  Late into the evening we were told to go home.

I usually took the subway back home but all the subways were shut down.  I took a city bus and took in all the sites, sounds and smells of the city as we slowly made our way through the route.  One of the things that anyone present at 9/11 in New York will tell you is that there was an odor.  It was indescribable, it permeated everywhere, and smelled like nothing you can identify.

The days following 9/11 were filled with more surreal experiences.  New York City was quiet; no airplanes overhead, no talking, no subways, just a heavy muffled ghost of what used to be.

Eventually people started to talk, to light candles, to smile and look each other in the eye.  New York felt at that moment like a small, close-knit community.  We all came together.  Volunteers arrived to help at the site. I had my massage license so I went down on my days off with my massage table and would give free massages to the firemen, police, iron workers and crew that were working nearly around the clock trying to find something, anything.

The stories I heard were life changing. Stories of loved ones lost, of life nearly lost had that person not been late to work that day.  The stories were the fabric of healing.

I was fortunate to be present at the first Broadway play to re-open after 9/11.  A moment of silence with the entire audience holding hands and shedding tears is something that still makes me stop in gratitude to this day, for the fortitude of the human spirit.

So today, ten years later. Where were you?  Life that has suddenly and irreversibly changed contains important lessons.  These are the lessons I took from that day:

  • Pay it forward.
  • Say I love you before you leave every single time.
  • Hug more.
  • Do something that fills your heart every day.
  • We are not very different from each other.
  • Never underestimate the power of the human spirit.

© Dr. Tami Meraglia, September 2011

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