A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Aberdeen and 9/11

It's been nearly eight years since September 11th, 2001, the day that changed our lives forever. For those of us living on the bayshore, the World Trade Center attacks were a personal thing. Especially so for those who worked downtown or lost loved ones.

What was on television for most of America was happening in living color just down the road for Jersey Shore residents. People in Aberdeen could walk to the beach and actually see the World Trade Center towers burning about 20 miles away across the Raritan Bay in downtown Manhattan.

Many went to volunteer or give blood. Most worried about what was next. All attempted to account for loved ones and were generally panicked until they'd gathered the spouse and children close and were safely huddled in the homestead.

From her vantage point at Matawan Avenue Middle School, my daughter relates that on 9/11, her classmates were pulled from class one by one by their parents, leaving those remaining to wonder what terrible thing was happening. The teachers offered no explanation, preferring to leave it to parents to explain the inexplicable.

Many of my daughter's intramural soccer matches had to be canceled through the end of the season because so many of the girls on local teams were attending funerals for parents, aunts, or uncles who died in the attacks.

I had commuted to work on the North Jersey Coast train with many of the men and women who died that day. When the survivors returned to work, the train cars were eerily vacant.

My commute had involved daily rides through the World Trade Center on the PATH train to a job only a half dozen blocks away. Fortunately for me I hadn't left for work yet on that fateful day, so I avoided the shock of seeing Armageddon out the windows of my 25th floor office. I also escaped the trek on foot to Brooklyn that my workmates had to endure to flee the dust plume and feared additional attacks.

For weeks after the attacks, I had to work in Newark because I couldn't get into the city. For months the smoke from Ground Zero made a distinctive smell in the air, a grim reminder of what had happened just down the way. The jagged remains of the Twin Towers stood vigil down Church Street just south of Vesey Street. I meticulously avoided points south of Chambers Street for several years except for 9/11 remembrance events.

When I returned to the office, I had to ride the subway downtown from Penn Station. That first day on the subway was nerve-wracking. Everyone on the train was a potential terrorist, especially those who looked "foreign." You had to let go of the fear or go mad.

I lost workmates on 9/11. My neighbor's husband escaped the Towers and returned safely to his wife. A colleague, fleeing her office, tried to return to her desk to retrieve a forgotten purse and found that a plane wheel had crashed through the ceiling, leaving nothing of her desk but a gaping hole all the way to the ground. A friend transferred to another city on September 10th and was on the road the day her building was destroyed.

My daughter and I had flown out of Newark on a United flight to San Francisco only a few weeks earlier.

Friends volunteered at Ground Zero.

Many young people were inspired to become first responders or work for the intelligence community.

We watched coverage of unfolding events all day, then tuned in the evening news looking for an explanation of what we'd seen. Life was forever altered was the only answer.

Below is a memorial to those who worked the pile at the World Trade Center site, written and performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter. The song has always been a comfort to me. It confesses to the strength of our society, that we come together in times of need for the common good, and that our way of life is resilient, capable of going on after even the greatest of traumas, and finds its balance by looking to the familiar.


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