On our third date my future husband and I went to Windows on the World, on the very top of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. It took just under a minute to reach the 107th floor, but our stomachs caught up a little later. We followed the maitre d’ down a short flight of steps and were seated right up against a breath-taking view of south Manhattan at night. My New-Yorker date showed the California girl the spot where the Hudson and East Rivers meet and Ellis Island, where my grandmother had arrived from Eastern Europe. He told me about Phillipe Petit, who balanced on a highwire between the two towers, and another guy who climbed up the side of one of the buildings. These memories from his childhood seemed incredible, but they were true. Leaning over to get a better view of the Verrazano Bridge, I knocked over my glass, which broke noisily. Immediately, cries of “Mazal tov!” resounded from all sides. I took it as a good sign.
Thirteen years later, we were living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and expecting our sixth child. It was a blue-skied Tuesday and I had just returned from dropping our children off at school, when my husband interrupted his phone call to tell me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. We discussed how something similar had happened about a year before, when a small plane lost radar reception and crashed into a building in Newark, NJ.
But sixteen minutes later a second plane crashed into the South Tower. We turned on the news. Lower Manhattan was being evacuated. My brother worked in the Chrysler Building. I tried to call him, but there was no cell reception. When I reached him, much later, he told me it had been the most frightening day of his life. The sky was gray-white with ash and debris and the streets packed with people. This mob of frightened people would start to run – and he had to run, too, or risk being trampled. Then the pace would slow, and just as suddenly, take off again. Carried along by the current of this mass, he thought, “I’m confronting terrorism here, I might as well move to Israel.”
Still grappling with the news, we heard that a third plane had slammed into the Pentagon, setting fire to part of the building. We found TV access just in time to see the South Tower collapse. And then Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania, about an hour’s drive from our house.
In the days that followed, people everywhere were glued to the news. I would listen in the car on the way to work, dry my tears, and then go to teach. I learned about the courage of the passengers on Flight 93 and the kindness of the people of Gander, Newfoundland. But after a few days of being convulsed by grief, I decided this was not good for our unborn baby. All this sorrow and anguish coursing from my blood to his, was unhealthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I made a conscious effort to turn away, and studiously avoided photos of the deceptively insouciant “Falling Man” (Jonathan Briley).
In the ten years that have passed, I have avoided everything having to do with that day. I didn’t watch the movie, Flight 93; I drew back from photos that showed the 200 people forced by intense heat and choking smoke to jump to their deaths; and I shrank from listening to the panic-filled 911 recordings from the towers.
They say that time heals all wounds, but time hasn’t made this one any easier. Each horrific image, each desperate voice crying for help, still shakes me to tears. Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day, how could we ever make peace with that?
Can there be any greater proof that G-d is in exile, than the atrocities committed in His name? And so long as He is exile, we cannot be complacent and we cannot find comfort.
Ironically, September 11, 2001 was the United Nations International Day of Peace and the first day of Culture of Peace Week. Resolution can only come once we have agitated to create a world at peace with itself, at peace with the Creator.