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Memories of 9/11

A proud but humbling experience.

by Gail Czech (September 17, 2012)

(Note: Gail flew to New York, volunteering at a church that was an affiliate of her church back home.)

I got to the airport about 1˝ hours early, hoping to be upgraded to first class; I thought the lines would not be too bad, especially at 4:30 AM! To my surprise, I was very wrong; I waited in line for over an hour to get to the counter, then another 40 minutes to get through security. Yes, they are certainly tightening down. At security, they ask for not only your ticket, but also your ID again.

They served breakfast and to my surprise, we had all the china and silverware, except the knives were plastic. Interesting, I thought.

When I transferred in Denver for a plane to LaGuardia, the gates for every flight to NYC or Newark were at the very end gates of the terminal, which struck me as unusual.

The flight was less than full. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a gentleman who was the former CEO of Merrill Lynch, now retired and consulting. We had a very interesting conversation regarding the people of the city, the impact on the country, and, very interestingly, where he felt the economy would be going. He said he did not think the economy would be back to a high state for at least five years, but had faith in it moving up and down till it reaches that high.

When we started to discuss the tragedy, his eyes just seemed to change and his voice lowered. He has lived in Manhattan all his life, raised his family there, and was proud to be a New Yorker; the pain was very much in evidence. He also felt they would never re-build two such tall towers again. He said the average building height in NYC is 50 stories and he felt they would probably re-build 4- 50 story buildings instead. (Editor's comment: Turns out he was wrong.)

As we were in the landing pattern we flew directly over the WTC site, still smoldering. It is difficult to imagine the immensity of the site.

The cab driver was from Pakistan; he has lived in NYC for 20 years. I asked him where he was when it all happened; he said he had just picked up a fare at the WTC and was on the way to the airport. There were three of his friends (cabbies) who were waiting at the WTC behind him when he left; they are now among the missing.

For a Friday afternoon rush hour, the traffic was much less than usual. 

Arriving at the hotel, I found I was 1 of only 17 guests there for the weekend; all the hotels are nearly empty, many hotel workers have been let go.

Each day I would leave a dollar for the maid; she left me a note thanking me. Her husband had been a maintenance worker at the WTC and is now missing; she is struggling to make ends meet.

The unemployment rate in NYC is devastating right now; that is a major concern of many people. I was told that companies that lost their places of business are temporarily -- if not permanently -- moving out of state to New Jersey or elsewhere. American Express has decided to permanently move its entire operation to Stanford, CT.

Very near my hotel were two separate churches. I went in them at different times of day and watched, listened, and prayed. There were businesspeople just coming to pray. There were friends meeting there and holding each other. There were mothers and their children praying together -- people of all races. It was very humbling.

One of the sights that had a huge emotional impact on me were the fire stations. There were flowers, candles burning, pictures of the missing, letters, poems, notes from school children, and books to sign for all of us who are hurting. Amazing: the firefighters were the ones consoling many of the others there, instead of us consoling them. Amazing the courage and bravery, just amazing.

There are entire buildings and businesses that have their windows posted with notes from children and people everywhere. Notes of support, anger, hate, love and pain. One child wrote, "Please Stop the Sirens."

The entire city had pictures of the missing, letters and poems posted on lampposts, buildings, and phone kiosks; wherever there was a highly visible spot, it was used. There was a lovely impromptu memorial of flowers, candles and balloons, etc., right in the middle of Times Square.

Street vendors had more flags for sale than I have ever seen. Flags were everywhere, on buildings, windows, cars, vans -- all types of vehicles -- and on hats, clothing, and even on a dog sweater! Patriotism and standing together was very much on display.

On to just a few of the people I spoke with or listened to: I walked through a very empty Macy’s on Saturday mid-morning. I bought a skirt. The clerk was a young man from the Middle East. I asked him how he was and tears welled up in his eyes; he held my hand and shared trembling words on how it has impacted him and his family -- they were devastated. He was a student and will possibly have to quit school.

Another woman I met was originally from Paris; she shared how it affected her and her family in Paris as well as Singapore. This disaster is so very worldwide in scope, touching so many people. She stressed prayer and faith and she cried and we held each other for a long time.

I did happen to meet several tourists from Europe, who had previously booked trips and were determined to come. Most were traveling on into New England to see the fall colors. They had so many wonderful things to say about the support they offered us as a country and people.

I was fortunate to get a couple of tickets for the theatre. (Broadway is suffering terribly, too.). Many shows are shutting down, putting more people out of work. The people I sat next to were mainly local and had gotten tickets that day for the performance. The house had sets of empty seats, but overall there was a pretty good attendance. The Producers was completely full. The people that attended decided to support the theatre as much as possible, or had purchased their tickets previously.

Mayor Giuliani has been a strong, positive influence on the city and the people. He is encouraging everyone to come to NYC, support the arts, shop, and stay in the hotels. As a matter of fact, he is one of the main reasons I decided to go at this time. We need to think about not only the memorial funds being so generously raised, but also how we can give financial and emotional support to the people and New York City itself.

Starting my return journey home, I got to LaGuardia, early considering it was Monday morning, a business day; my flight was to leave at 8 am, so I got there by 6:30 am. To my surprise, there were a total of only five people at all the counters, I asked why;  the agent simply said, no one is coming or going in New York right now; my plane was almost empty, I guess he was right.

I know I was the one who was touched and have been given back much more than I thought I could give to the people of New York.

Two things I did not do that I had planned on: Go see "Ground Zero." I didn’t need to do that; saw it in the eyes and faces of New Yorkers. I also did not take pictures; I almost felt that would be an intrusion in their grief.

I came back with strong emotions, I am humbled, but so very proud to be an American and live in this great country!



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