9/11’s tragedies will be forever etched
Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:55 pm
By: Jennifer Parrish, Special to The Press
It seems like yesterday. The day started out like any other as I busily prepared breakfast to get my daughter off to school. My husband, Jeff, was home that day; he had, for some reason, taken ill and did not go to work. Many people stayed home that particular day for strange reasons, or turned around go back home for fear of having left the coffee pot on and other such craziness. However, more people did not. Most went to work as usual.
Jeff was a news watcher and called to me immediately when the report about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center came across his usual NBC morning news broadcast. I stopped what I was doing and went to take a look.
What a tragedy! It was so sad to see something so terrible happen and to know how many lives it would be affecting. Then I returned to what I was doing, just another news-numbed American citizen trying to get her child to the bus on time.
Once I returned from the bus stop I was only just putting coffee on when I saw on the living room television the moment the Earth stood still. Another plane – then blackness.
Living less than 60 miles north of Manhattan, our news media came straight from the tower satellites. It was a mad scramble for a minute as we found one of the major media partner stations still broadcasting. But I will tell you; if you were not watching via these major broadcasting stations in the tri-state area, that moment was chilling.
Body awash in cold sweat, yelps from both Jeff and I as we, as well as countless others around the world, simultaneously realized – this was no accident!
Though the next hour was full of scattered coverage from NYC, the Pentagon, and those in the White House, there was one pivotal moment etched in my memory forever. What this news station said was:
“President Bush: Plane Crashes”
“Apparent Terrorist Attack”
Now, many realized immediately there was a colon in that statement and that it was simply a statement being relayed on President Bush’s behalf.
But many, like me, missed that colon in that split second and thought that Air Force One had been taken down as well. If they killed our president, what did that mean for the rest of us? A simple misunderstanding, but these words are now burned forever in my mind and heart,
It took several minutes to confirm the well being of our president before putting that scare to rest, but still our nerves wore thinner and thinner as the second ticked by. Flights were being re-routed; the three major airports all shut down, and yet, somewhere overhead a missing plane without communications still lurked.
It wasn’t long before the report of the Pentagon and another rogue plane destroying more lives added to the chaos of what was feeling, at that point, like a nightmare of immeasurable proportions. And then 20 minutes later, just over an hour since it all began, it happened.
The south tower collapsed.
Once stilled by the numb shock of fear, I found myself propelled into immediate action. I needed to get my daughter out of school – NOW.
Sick and terrified, I reached the school five minutes from home, at which point, the office staff just looked at me with searching, pleading, scared faces. I told them I wanted my daughter. The secretary said, “She’s in gym; go to her room and get her stuff. I’ll call her out of gym right now and have her meet you there.”
Once I got to the classroom and collected her things, the teacher informed me that they really could not say anything. The children were all so young. K-3, to be precise, so all they could do was try to make the day as normal as humanly possible and quietly try to keep one another posted.
When my daughter got to the classroom, she begged me to stay and gave me such a hard time leaving, I literally had to carry her under my arm like baggage, telling her I would explain once we had gone. Those in the office and I simply expressed our wishes to stay safe as I walked out of the front door. I would later find out that mere minutes after my departure, the police showed up to put their school, like all others, on lockdown – nobody in, nobody out.
Once home, we tried to explain to our daughters as simply as possible that it was important for us to all be together that day; that some people had dome some bad things making us want to keep them close. What do you tell a three and six-year old anyway?
My husband told me that part of the Pentagon had fallen and the missing place that was purportedly overhead nearby, did finally get accounted for in yet another crash in southeast Pa., only an hour of so west of us. More pain, more suffering, more fear.
Just then, only moments from walking in the door and getting the latest news we stand there, all of us, and watch as the north tower crumbles to the ground. I’m now crying so hard I have to take my daughters into their room and try to tell them that it is all going to be o.k. This is the first and only time I have lied to my children. It was a hope, a silent prayer, but at that moment no one could know if that statement was actually true.
If a nuclear warhead went off in Manhattan, radiation would make it to our house within 55 minutes. What about the nuclear power plant in Peekskill, only 20-something miles west? The potential was catastrophic for those in and around NYC.
And then – silence. Silence in the skies. Silence in the neighborhoods as everyone sat glued to the television watching hopelessly as thousands streamed through the streets of the city covered in dust and blood. It just felt so close and yet so far. I wanted to go down and help. I wanted to rage at those responsible. I wanted – I wanted to crawl under a rock.
Nobody knew what to do. No one knew how to feel. It was a moment in history like no other before, since, and hopefully – never again. The entire world was caught, breath held, as rescues continued, the city remained closed and the skies remained empty. Such an eerie silence when you went outdoors that it is still lasting in the soul, to this day.
In the days to come, the news coverage, the clean up, the cries of survivors looking for loved ones who would never return home, reports were made. One of these reports said that people in general would be depressed from the backlash of this event for a year. For those residing within 100 miles of either site, up to five years; especially those who tended to be more sensitive.
There was, however, in following days, a feeling of triumph as you drove down the road and saw EVERY car with a flag on it. When you spoke with your neighbors and banded together in common pain to help one another heal and when everyone put candles out on their front stoops in honor of those who had been lost. We were Americans and we were strong! Those who sought to cause destruction had instead, caused people by the millions, nationally and abroad, to band together in mutual support.
We are coming up on the 11-year anniversary of this horrific tragedy. I now live more than 1,000 miles away and I still cannot even write this story without shaking and sobbing. I lost no one personally that day, though I knew many who did, and yet I am still suffering with all of this time that has gone by.
I know that those who are Islamic are not to blame, but extremists within the Islamic faith are. I do not hold one faith, one culture or one country responsible. I know that many who believe in Islam lost much that day as well, including family members and dear friends just like too many others,
Again, 11 years later, and more than 1,000 miles away, I did not suffer a personal loss that day and yet – I cry. I cannot tell you about that day without choking up. I cannot watch a program on television without remembering the utter terror my family endured that day.
So how difficult must it be for those still here? For those who lost loved ones and friends? How awful must it be for those who walked out of those buildings covered in blood and dust, knowing many of their friends and co-workers would not be following them into rubble-filled streets?
We here, surely, will never truly know. So many will never understand, yet, we collectively remember the pain each year.
We are bound together through our sadness of what is wrong in our world and dedicated to what is right in it – at least today.
Maybe one day we will find a way to build bridges needed in our hearts and mend the broken spirits of those who have suffered tragedies such as this one, once and for all – maybe.
Editor’s note: Jennifer Parrish now lives in Martin with her husband and three children. At the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., Mrs. Parrish and her family lived in upstate New York, 55 miles away from the World Trade Center.