9/11 from a distance

I’m not a fan of disaster remembrances, so I’ve mostly avoided the ones flooding the media today, but I have read a few personal stories on Facebook that brought back memories of my own, so if you’re not sick of the subject yet, here are mine.

That day in 2001 I was working at my computer, as usual, and watching the Today show when hosts Matt Lauer and Katie Couric started getting word of the planes hitting the towers. The ordinary light-hearted news and schmooze program quickly became deadly serious, and video feeds began to show the towers pretty quickly. Ellen was getting ready to leave for work, but we both watched for a while, stunned and shaken. Once the towers came down, we both decided we needed to get on with our day, and she left for work while I got back to mine. I was working on relettering CASTLE WAITING: THE CURSE OF BRAMBLY HEDGE for Linda Medley, digitally replacing her typeset with the fonts I was using in the regular series, and it was a pretty tough job because I had to do a fair amount of art extension as well to fill in spots where my lettering and balloons were smaller. I kept the TV on all day as the disaster and its repercussions expanded, feeling numb and sad. I got in touch with my Mom in North Jersey, and she’d heard from my brother Doug and his wife, who worked in New York, that they were okay. I don’t remember if I had any contact with DC editors that day or not, but I knew DC was not close to the event.

My mind kept returning to the previous year when my entire family had been inside the World Trade Center. My brother Doug got married in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, not far from the south end of Manhattan, and family members had stayed at a hotel inside the WTC that night, then we’d all met at the restaurant at the top for brunch the next day. It was my only visit to that amazing restaurant where you could look all the way down the dizzying height to the street so far below, and I think only my second visit to the WTC, but it was so fresh in all our minds because of that.

Here, far away in South Jersey, it was a gorgeous day: sunny, pleasant temperatures, low humidity, not much wind. And that day, and the next few, it was even quieter than usual: no airplane or traffic noise. We don’t get a lot of that, but it was still noticeable.

Later in the fall I visited the DC offices, going up to Manhattan by bus, and as the bus entered the Lincoln Tunnel you could see the site still smoking even then, and the skyline forever changed. Luckily I didn’t know anyone who worked there or was among the rescuers who were injured or killed, but of course we felt for all those who were impacted directly and indirectly. While at DC I met former editor Andy Helfer who lived near the site and he had some chilling stories to tell. And we heard lots more through the media in the days and weeks and months following.

Perhaps the most lasting effect for many is the waves of war and American fighting in the Middle East that followed, violence begetting more violence, as it often does. And who knows when and where it might end, if ever? A sad day indeed, and one I’d prefer not to remember, if that were possible.

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