As we enter the 14th anniversary of 9/11 it’s presence, as always, is strong.
That day, my journey through the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center was swift and purposeful, as are all journeys in New York City.
The sky was unusually clear and strikingly blue.
I paused at the bottom of the long escalator into the World Financial Center, wondering why the fruit vendor was not there.
He wore, what I now know to be, a Pashtun cap, typical of Afghanistan, and sold fresh fruit at the bottom of those stairs for years.
He was there EVERY SINGLE day except that Tuesday.
I have hated him ever since.
After the first plane hit, and I watched chunks of burning concrete fall to the ground, I ran outside with a small group of my Wall Street colleagues.
We’d heard it may have been a small personal plane and talked amongst ourselves as we waited for confirmation.
At 9:03 a.m., we watched the second plane fly above our heads in, what felt like, slow motion with the words United Airlines flashing before our eyes.
I could sense the passengers as they looked ahead to their future, their fateful journey that would end in the next few seconds.
The collective hearts of those of us on the streets were immediately and fully engaged in terror.
People jumped, frantically, into the Hudson River seeking escape.
Others, including me, ran in the opposite direction, not knowing, initially, from whom or what we were running.
We hoped to beat death while tasting it with every breath.
Later, continuing to run, I saw a man swan dive, with grace and dignity, from one of the towers.
That bone chilling moment lives on in my mind like a strange movie, the lighting perfectly orchestrated for a clear and memorable view.
The jumpers chose their own method of death over being burned alive.
Later, I heard the stories of shoes melting to the soles of their feet and of bodies splattered at the base of the towers.
Some of the bodies floated up to the shores of New Jersey where I lived. I did not go outside to see them.
I spoke with friends and family when I could get a signal and had deep conversations that I don’t recall.
They remember every word shared, perhaps because they believed it was our last.
I was physically and mentally consumed with unimaginable sites and sounds that sent me into overload.
I heard steal crushing and bending like the sound of a city garbage truck amplified a million times, a sound that would haunt me for years to come.
My feeble attempt to comfort a teenage girl crying and calling out for her mother as we watched her office building collapse like a child’s toy lives on vividly.
I heard the sound of souring jets, invisible in the black-tarred sky, and waited for the impending bullets to shoot us all dead.
The screams of disbelief, and anguish and horror can never be destroyed.
The sites and sounds of “normal” life have never been the same.
Every airplane is a potential weapon.
Fireworks jar me and hurt my heart.
When I see a person in anguish, I feel it fully and deeply.
After taking a Circle Line boat turned rescue vessel to New Jersey, I walked across a desolate Holland Tunnel.
The silence was eerie, the empty space of death, fear, hopelessness and loss.
As a survivor, I hold onto an indescribable sadness from that day.
I breathed it in with the whirlwind of office papers and the ashes of burning bodies.
I share my personal story as a way to relieve my suffering, hoping to get it out of my system somehow.
And I share it because everyone must know, remember and never forget.
I was one of the lucky ones that day.
Something deep inside me, and in so many others, changed forever.
In the days and weeks that followed, NYC took on a ghost like persona.
We could feel the souls of the dead bringing us together.
In the aftermath, I experienced the purest love I’ve ever known amongst the survivors.
It was palpable and I am blessed to have known a love so complete.
I hope that the lost souls of 9/11 are resting peacefully and know that they live on in our memories, compassion and love.