by Ed Wilkinson
Ten years after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it’s clear that it was a day that changed all of our lives. The attacks against America awakened us to the terrible threat of terrorism and the reality that it could to any one of us.
I was driving to work that morning when a bulletin came on the Imus radio show. The popular shock jock seemed genuinely stunned as he reported that a plane had hit the Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. At first it seemed to be an air trafficaccident, incredible as it seemed.
For me, it was personal. My sister worked in the Trade Center. I knew she worked high up, but I wasn’t sure in which of the Twin Towers. As I arrived at the office, I stood on the Prospect Expwy. overpass and stared into Manhattan at the landmark building that now resembled a giant Roman Candle. Flames and smoke were jumping out of the upper floors and a steady stream of papers seem to fly out of the structure and out over New York Harbor.
As I ran up to my fourth-floor office, I joined the other staffers who already were pressed against a window watching the historic event unfold. We watched as the second plane crashed and we then knew this was more than an accident.
I thought again of my sister and ran to the phones to call other family members. No one had heard anything from her.
This was Tuesday, our press day, and the news staff began ripping up the planned pages to begin laying out a whole new paper. What was going on and how did it affect the diocese?
We began to get word that Bishop Thomas V. Daily would celebrate a special Mass at noon at St. James Cathedral. Msgr. Guy Puglisi, the Superintendent of Schools, was rushing out to visit local Catholic schools to assess the situation.
As the magnitude of the crisis became more apparent, Catholic Charities was getting ready to send social workers into the field to assist in any way they could. Fire and police chaplains were being called to the scene. Tablet photographers ran to the roof of the diocesan headquarters and began snapping photos of the conflagration.
It was three hours before a call came that my sister had escaped from the 82nd floor office for EuroBrokers. She was calling from Greenwich Village as she made her way north and away from the scene of the attack. She had walked down the staircase and was still in the building when it was hit by the second plane. She didn’t know it at the time but many of her colleagues were not as lucky as she was. It was simply a matter of which stairs she had chosen to use.
We worked late that evening getting the paper to print with the story that would continue to impact us for weeks and years. Our new front page showed the Twin Towers in flames and the headline read “Let Us Pray!”
That’s exactly what we did in the ensuing days. People flocked to churches for special liturgies. Volunteers responded to the call to search for the missing at the site. Some were never found. We are still praying. We still feel vulnerable.
We learned a lot from our response to 9/11. We realized that family and friends were the real valuables in life. We knew enough to search for answers beyond our day-to-day lives.
We can never forget those who were lost that day and those who survived. We can never forget our responses as we tried to make sense of it all. Ten years later, the wounds may be numbed by time but they are still there, never to be forgotten.