Like most Americans, I experienced the trauma of September 11, 2001 through my TV. My wife, 1-year-old daughter Lauren, and I had just moved to the Cleveland, Ohio area, and I was a dad who stayed home.
This morning I was in my living room while Lauren was watching a children's show. Our landline phone rang and my brother-in-law said, "Start the news." I changed the channel because Lauren protested.
Smoke rose from the first tower.
The sight of a national tragedy in the presence of a one-year-old made the already surreal experience even more bizarre. I was not sure what to do first. I had no relatives to call New York City, but what then? Call my wife at work? Call my parents? Protect my child from the pictures? At that time it was not clear if the explosion was an accident, a terrorism or a war. In shock, I did not do anything for a few minutes, picked up the news, and looked after Lauren with split attention.
Soon I talked to my wife; Then an airplane hit the second tower and my thoughts froze. However, the need to give birth to an increasingly picky child helped me focus. I could do nothing and my unsuspecting daughter needed me. After a few minutes of impossible knowledge, I decided to take a break and lead Lauren to the nearby park.
But there was no escape from the media. In the park, a mother and her little child arrived with the radio on. After talking about the third plane that had now reached the Pentagon, we heard more frightening news: a fourth plane that was kidnapped should be "over Cleveland".
My mind freezes.
The whole country seemed prone to falling from the sky. Getting Lauren to safety has suddenly become a more urgent task. As we know now, this was the fourth flight United Airlines Flight 93 that eventually crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after heroic efforts by American passengers.
The impact of 9/11 remains difficult to convey
Today Lauren is 19 years old and her sister Lindsay 16. When they grew up learning about 9/11, it was difficult to convey the shock, anxiety, and anger that so many Americans felt at the time. To my surprise, I have observed that Flight 93 together, a movie that mimics the horror and confusion of this flight in real time has probably aroused the understanding of their teenagers.
Ironically, Lindsay is now an aspiring filmmaker, and we recently visited New York City to attend film schools. Coincidentally, we were in Times Square on July 13 when a power outage arrived in Manhattan around 7:00 pm. At first the scene was not alarming. The sun had not set, some lights remained on and the people remained calm. But soon we heard and saw several fire engines racing through dark intersections. After some fears of terrorism, the news spread (thanks to mobile phones) that the cause was electrical.
However, we also learned that the firefighters hurried to rescue people stuck in pitch-black, stiflingly hot subway stations and elevators. When we saw the Broadway theatergoers in narrow streets, a truckload of firefighters stopped right in front of us. We saw their intense faces as they stepped into action and walked into a building that people left.
At that moment it hit us: first responders are really at risk for our sake. While most of us change channels, go away or call a taxi out of danger (as Lindsay and I finally did), the first responders run to the dark places. Manhattan's blackout in 2019 was not Sept. 11, but the faces of these Times Square firefighters have fleshed out the abstract concept of heroism.
On the drive across Pennsylvania from Cleveland to New York City, my daughter and I had seen signs saying "Safety Corridor Next 5 Miles." This phrase seemed to me as if parents had been trying to care for their children for at least 18 years. As a result, firefighters and other first responders try to provide a "security corridor" for all of us for the rest of our lives. The appropriate amount of gratitude is difficult to convey.
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