Friday, July 4, 2014

My encounter of the 911 events, wrong or right?

It was long before the terrorist attacks of 911 that a pattern was set in my mind and my understanding of right and wrong.  A good friend and I would converse years before the 911 events and he would always challenge me when I used the word right or wrong.  He would basically tell me there was no right or wrong.

I never understood this.  How could this be?  I asked him many times to explain what he meant by this.  How can there be no such thing as right or wrong?  His points were very vague to me and I didn’t grasp his point.  So much so that years later, shortly after the 911 events, I couldn’t even remember what he said.  I believe that I was not ready for his basic information; therefore I didn’t grasp the point.

My own personal experience in refining my beliefs about what is right and/or wrong began shortly after my direct encounter of the 911 events – I was one block from the first falling tower in route to evacuate the lower Manhattan area. 

There is indeed a right and a wrong!

It was just a beautiful Tuesday morning.  A seventy-degree, let’s play hooky from work kind of day.  I started my day commuting on the Long Island Railroad at 7:58 from Rockville Centre to downtown Brooklyn where I transferred to the New York City Subway, proceeding to the Wall Street stop in lower Manhattan.

Ironically, I had not been commuting into the City for several weeks since much of my work was being performed at a client site on Long Island.  It was a good old New York City style commute, people pushing and hustling through the streets, faces lowered, cell phones up next to ears, briefcases and bags swinging from arms and bumping into other people. 

But there I was on that day, the day of the 911 events.  I arrived at my subway stop at approximately 8:47 and began my ascent to the street level where I noticed bits of paper mixed in with entire sheets coming down from the sky.  I looked around to identify the point of origin and briefly considered there might have been a ticker tape parade that day.  It occurred to me that I would have been aware of this beforehand.  So what was going on? I was not the only person wondering about this.  Many others were standing and looking at the paper floating around.  No logical explanation came to mind.

While waiting for a traffic light to change so I could cross the street a woman next to me took a phone call on her cell phone.  She was saying something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

Now this did catch my attention, but I immediately assumed any plane crashing into the Trade Centre would be one of those two or four seat Cessna’s that have from time to time crashed into Manhattan skyscrapers.  I took the elevator to the 14th floor where my office was located with an image in mind of a small plane in flames somewhere on an upper floor of the World Trade Centre.

I arrived at my desk and through the ceiling to floor glass window, I noticed the ticker tape still floating down more intensely now.  A vast shower of specks was whirling down from some as yet unknown location.

I called my good friend Carlos who lived in West New York, New Jersey.  His view of the City is superb.  His balcony faces Manhattan where you can see from the upper 50’s of Manhattan, just south of Central Park, down to the Statue of Liberty.

Carlos had an edge to his voice when he answered the phone.  Yes, he confirmed, a plane had crashed into the north tower of the Trade Center.  He was viewing it all, nearly first hand and on the television.

While still on the phone not even 2 minutes’ into our phone call, the building my office was located in began to assume a slight vibration that gradually got stronger.  The vibration ended in an explosion, which scared the hell out of me.  In concert, before the explosion Carlos was literally explaining to me an airplane was heading towards Lower Manhattan.  He said it was a large airplane –  “like the ones we go to Miami in Scott”.  It was obvious this was no accident. 

Carlos asked me to come to his house via the ferry from Manhattan to New Jersey, but I declined because the World Trade Center was between New Jersey and me.  I decided I was going home even though I had a 9:00AM meeting with my department at One Chase Plaza, which is across the street from the World Trade Center and I was already running late.

I informed the administrative assistant of our department I would be going home shortly.  Upon returning to my desk I ran into my direct supervisor and told him I didn’t feel comfortable staying at work.  He merely disappeared into his office with a stone cold look of shock on his face.  I knew he was at One Chase Plaza for our department meeting.  Later he explained, he watched the entire thing, which would have been no further than a football field away with no obstructed view. 

Another co-working noticed I was packing up and preparing to leave.  He asked me, “wouldn’t you feel safer in the building”?  I responded, “what if one of those towers falls over”?  He responded, “It could never happen, they were built really strong, it could never happen”.

I didn’t pretend to be reassured, but continued packing up and headed towards the Fulton Street subway station. Traffic was at a standstill.  The air was full of clouds of black, gray and white smoke swirling around.  Sirens were blaring everywhere and police and firefighters were traveling by foot towards the WTC, the same direction I was walking to the subway station.

Upon arriving at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, in front of Trinity Church a loud rumble began.  I froze like an animal in the forest not able to identify the source of the rumbling noise.  To my right I heard screaming and, “It’s falling, it’s falling”.  I look to my right at the source of this screaming and saw many people looking almost straight up.  I followed their line of sight and there it was, the first tower coming down literally a block away.  I didn’t think I was going to die, I knew I was.  I turned around and began to sprint telling myself, “don’t look back it will be over quickly, just don’t look”.  Having my laptop on my shoulder I recall thinking just drop it – it was impairing my balance and the speed of my sprint.

As I ran, I continued to think there was going to be a domino effect, which could collapse several buildings within a block or two with ruinous results.  I ran on toward the East River, expecting the skyline behind me to consume me – the dust cloud was quickly catching up as I frantically looked back wondering why the obvious had not happened.  I kept looking back as the seconds passed not understanding why I was still alive and not crushed.

I got to the East River and there was panic everywhere.  I arrived out of breath only to see hundreds of people in panic, trying to get on ferries or any kind of boat allowing some way out from the chaos.  Others appeared to be wandering around clueless, in a state of shock.

How could I have not been crushed?  The question raced through my mind.  A dense cloud of smoke and debris, like a large dust storm, was following hordes of people as they raced towards me just south of the Southside Seaport.  Some of them were immersed in the pre-haze already.

About that time I heard the high-pitched sound of jets overhead, which had many of us looking up and around.  I later heard that those who remained in their offices experience a lot of anxiety thinking another attack was underway.

In the moments following I made a decision to walk up the east side of the island to the Brooklyn Bridge.  From there I could cross over, where I would be able to get back home, or so I hoped.  While walking I overheard conversations that the Pentagon had been attacked and some other aircraft crashes occurred.  People were even speculating the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center might have been carrying some type of poison that may have been released upon the crashes.

Upon reaching the Brooklyn Bridge I helped several people over a short fence dividing inbound/outbound traffic on the bridge to the walkway crossing.  After acknowledging that I need to move on myself I started walking over the bridge.  I distinctly remember a woman that was just standing still staring at ground zero.  I asked her to come with me, “don’t you want to walk with me”.  It was like I wasn’t even there.  I gestured almost touching her to help her along and come with me, but her reaction was almost violent.  I apologies and expressed my thoughts again to come with me.  It was clear she was in shock.  I continued on my journey looking dead center at the bridge walkway to Brooklyn.  I though, now I’m crossing one of the most popular historical sites in New York City.  Of course there was anxiety regarding that though, but I tabled it and stepped up my pace.  Just get over the bridge Scott; no need to psych yourself out said an inner voice.

Halfway over the bridge, a loud rumble began.  Everyone, including me began to run towards Brooklyn.  Looking back over my shoulder I saw the collapse of the second tower falling.  Some of us stopped, stood and watched.  My first though watching the tower plummet down was they intentionally brought the building down to limit casualties.  I will never forget that moment.

I started walking again and it took about an hour to get to the Long Island Railroad.  There were people milling about in the streets everywhere along the way, covered in dust, and some requiring medical attention.  It reminded me of scenes in a movie of disastrous proportions.

Being at the station did me no good; the trains were not running.  Mass transit had been halted in the City, as well as Long Island.   There was nowhere to go, no way to get home.

I ended up walking towards my old neighborhood, Park Slope in Brooklyn.  I attempted to get through some calls on my cell phone, which was no easy task.  I tried calling my parents in South Florida, but the lines continued busy or just no line was available.  After several attempts trying to use my cell and getting no dial tone I finally got in contact with a close friend that lived in Long Beach, Long Island.  Shortly after knowing I was all right, she said have you called your mother.  I told her I could not get through.  “As a mother, you need to hang up now and keep trying”, was her response.  Right after that call I called my mother at her work place and got through to her the very first attempt.  We both just cried for a few minutes.  I also was able to speak with my stepmother to tell her that I was ok and to tell dad.

How was I to get home?  After an hour of walking about, drinking bottled water the thought of getting home started to consume me.  I check back in at the Long Island Railroad and hoped it would be an option.  It was like I was guided at that time to be checking in – the outbound trains had just started service.  Photo ID and proof of Long Island residency were required to board the LIRR (“Long Island Railroad”).

Upon my decent into the underground railroad it was spooky as I was one of the first to enter the train station.  The train filled pretty quickly and they loaded it literally with no standing room left.  We began our journey out of the Flatbush Station to the Jamaica Station.  Once at the Jamaica Station the police with dogs searched the external part of the train, which seem to take forever.  It made many of us even more nervous as the adrenaline continued in our bodies.

Back safely in Rockville Centre, I went directly to a deli where a close friend worked.  The deli was on the same block of the train station.  Upon entering the shop, the staff and several patrons stared at me.  My friend, which will go unnamed, was one of the last to turn his head from behind the counter.  He ran to me and almost knocked me over with a tight hug.  “Oh my God, you are alright.  I was thinking the worst.  Look at you.”  I didn’t quite get the look at you, but he clarified all the dust on me soon after.  I went to the bathroom and saw something that was so surreal.  I was covered in dust.  The staff at the deli was trying to pamper me with anything I wanted and after seeing what I looked like I just wanted to be home, where I thought I’d feel better.

I closed the door to my house and felt a momentary sense of security.  I drew a bath and put on classical music to relax, something I always did.  In removing my clothes I realized that my one ankle was soar; later to know I had a sprain caused by my sprinting away from the first falling building – leather soled Wintips don’t work real will against concrete, especially when they are new!  Well, the bath didn’t last very long at all.  I was so wound up still from adrenaline the bath only lasted five minutes or less.  I turned on the television and for the next three days I didn’t sleep a wink.  I grocery shopped daily as if another attack was imminent and continued to wondered if I would ever see my family again.

During the days to come, loud noises startled me, airplanes overhead awoke me from a dead sleep, and my anxiety level didn’t taper off for several months. 

It turned out that Rockville Center, where I lived at the time had sustained the most deaths in the tragedy.  I found myself attending several memorial services per my therapist recommendation to try to put closure on “911”.  All I could think about were my own emotions and how to come to terms with these events.

A couple of months later, after work one day, I had a beer with my boss.  He was based in England, but now in New York.  We were walking down the street in the City awaiting a light to change so we could cross the road.  A bus raced up to the curb and honked aggressively at us.  My boss verbalized that he had noticed that right after the “911” event how courteous and respectful New Yorkers had become to one another, however now the City seems to be back to its old self.

After that comment my whole life changed.  I realized the simplicity of my friends point there is no “right or wrong”.  My thoughts to my friends point are there is right and wrong, and its solely based on the intention of a human as he or she commits an act.

The attack on the World Trade Centre was definitely a WRONG.  Motives coupled with beliefs led to plotting and execution of the events of “911”.  Where my experience that day was physically closer to Ground Zero, I feel every American and the allies of Americans were in shock and suffered great emotional distress.  Some people I know will be mentally not the same for the rest of their life after watching people jump out windows and committing an inevitable death.

The one thing most of us can control is our behavior towards one another.  As a race we should move to exercise this option while we have it.  We can indeed differentiate and choose between right and wrong, which exist as more than just a mere abstraction.

There have been significant changes in myself and I’ve realized how lucky I am.  I’ve become much more humble and those things that have monetary value don’t have the value they once did in my life.  Integrity, communication and love seem to be the best choice to create a positive and peaceful existence.

Love and Light

Scott Claudius Laurentine Himmelrich

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