Note: This column appears in the 9/8 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/9 issue of the Peoria Times
Everyone has his September 11th story, and many of those stories are, to this country’s great misfortune, infinitely more dramatic and heartbreaking than my own. Nevertheless, 10 years passed is a decent time for all to reflect, and so I will.
I was working in customer service at a healthcare products company in New Jersey on September 11, 2001. After everything went down, it was decided that, because our company serviced virtually every nearby New York City hospital, it would be required for some employees to volunteer to work overnight, and field the expected flood of phone calls. After the confusion, fear, and helpless feelings brought on by the day’s events slightly faded, then morphed into an urging to be a part of this, to help out, I volunteered.
I worked throughout the night, only in that I was physically at work. No phone calls came, except one, requesting only body bags.
With nothing to do, virtually alone in my department, and already feeling overexposed to the images, breaking news, and immediate commentary of this historically awful event still unraveling, I had only my thoughts to work through. They raced around, unhinged, disorganized, at odds with each other in my head, and I needed to sort them out. The keyboard seemed as good a place as any to start.
I wrote down my feelings and emotions, and attempted to put 9/11 into some type of context. When I was finished, I was proud of it. So much so that I printed it out and, hours later that morning, handed it to a few incoming coworkers who I was close to, and, later, to my family.
Whether genuine or to humor me, people said they liked it. I felt—such embarrassing naïveté—that I had helped in some small way to add a sense of perspective. Move over, George Will—a 20-something customer service rep from New Jersey has something to say. It was an uniformed, juvenile take on things, and I shudder at the thought of what that paper read. I don’t remember everything. I have tried at times, like the event itself, to erase from my memory my take on it.
But I will never forget, like the event itself, the feeling I had upon finishing that piece. How therapeutic it felt, how rewarding, how exciting the anticipation of others reading it. I decided, pretty much then and there, to be a writer.
At that time, I was, for all intents and purposes, going nowhere, lost in a post-college haze of immaturity, reluctance to join the real world, and beneath it all, uncertainty and fear at what I would do in that real world, how I would contribute. September 11th violently awoke me out of a slumber of dependency and indifference, and—I don’t even think it was conscious—inspired me to get moving, and revealed to me how I would do just that.
September 11th inspired others to do heroic things, and sacrifice their very lives. To them, all just due attention be paid, always. Some of us were simply inspired to be who we were supposed to be all along. I don’t know why God allows such trivial positives to arise from the ashes of such colossal tragedy, but I don’t know a lot of things. This is the real world. There is simply too much to comprehend, which is why we have each other, and everything that each of us brings to this grand table.