For the families
In July of 2001, I was in New York working on decommissioning a regional office. Shutting down the phone switch, helping pack up the expensive network gear, bemoaning the fact that the UPS at this facility would never be removed, things like that.
Like anyone else who takes their first trip to New York City for work, I was jamming in sightseeing when I was able. I got to the World Trade Center early one evening; early enough to see the buildings in the light from the World Trade Center Plaza, but by the time I got to the observation deck it was dark. While I was up there, I made a phone call to my now-wife (then new-girlfriend) to remark how amazing it was to be standing on top of a man-made mountain, on the an island, surrounded by man-made stars. Hokey as it sounds here in print, if you’ve ever been up to the top of a tall building in New York you’ll know it’s just not hokey at all.
Almost exactly two months later, my clock radio went off and the first words I heard were, “… attack on the World Trade Center.” Less than 20 minutes later, the South Tower collapsed. Since I’d just listening to the tour guide talk about the number of people who worked at the location my initial thought was, “25,000 people might have just died”. My second thought was to wonder if the nice woman who had sold me a bottle of water at the Observation Deck Sbarro two months earlier had been at work that day, something that really brought the human element of the story home. My third thought was, “There will be war from this, thousands more are going to die.”
Thirty minutes later, the North Tower collapsed. In the days that followed, we found out that the final tally was far less than it could have been, not that this reduced the tragedy. Of all of the tens of thousands of people who worked below the impact zones, only 110 of them died. Knowing the scale of the damage and the chaos that must have been that morning, that’s actually a remarkably low number. The bad thing about working in disaster response is that you look at events like this and part of your brain logs this as a win; you always have to step back in your humanity shoes to remember that there’s another 2,867 souls involved and those 2,977 people are gone from the world of the living.
Tales trickled in. Friends of relatives or relatives of friends had worked in the building. One had arrived to work a few minutes later than normal, walked up the stairwell of the subway, blinked twice, and gone home. One had gotten out before the towers collapsed and walked 120 blocks home, couldn’t remember a damn detail of the rest of the day. There are a thousand more stories. I still don’t know if the woman who worked at the Sbarro was on shift.
For all their friends and relatives and acquaintances who lost a lover or a father or a sister or a friend, I hope that you have found surcease of sorrow in the last decade. The dead are dead, and the living must endure.