Where were you when the world changed?
It's a cliche thing to say, I know, but some cliches exist because they are true. And indeed, on the 21st century's "day that will live in infamy", the world did indeed change--forever.
I was in my psychologist's office in Jerusalem, finishing off another weekly session. A little earlier then usual, my mother comes bustling in. "We need to go."
"There been an attack on the Twin Towers."
Some clarification is in order here. Up to that point, I had never to the best of my knowledge so much as seen the Twin Towers, let alone know anything about them beyond a passing familiarity with the ubiquitous name. On the drive home, my mother explained that they were these two really tall skyscrapers in New York. Automatically, my mind envisioned a simplistic child's version of the site--two elongated boxes of brick and mortar and cement, standing on end, covered in a zillion windows, reaching for the sky. And that was, in fact, pretty much exactly what the Twin Towers were in real life. There was nothing exceptionally glamorous or memorable about them, like the Chrysler Building or the Empire Stae Building. Just a couple of boxes and nothing more, a singularly aesthetically unimpressive and unimaginative sight. From a visual perspective, anyway.
To many other people they were symbols of America's general and economic might. To some people, they were targets.
I was too young to remember the first WTC attack in 1993, but growing up in Israel had made me used to the concept of terrorist attacks on civilian locations. As opposed to Americans, to whom terror attacks were something than for the most part happened in other countries usually full of brown people, knowledgability about terrorism was an integral part of life here, running the gamut from suicide bombings to airplane hijackings. This, however, I could sense was something bigger. Much bigger.
So there we were, in the car, driving back home down the highway. My mother had seen the initial coverage on a TV in a clothes shop where she was passing the time. So, this was big news. Okay. But what did that have to do with us?
"Uncle Marty works in the Twin Towers."
This gave me pause. While I cannot claim to be particularly close in any special way to my Uncle Marty, having met him only on fewer than a dozen visits to the US in my lifetime, he was still my uncle and a nice guy to boot. This was profoundly potentially earthshaking news. In my 12 years of life, not one close relative of mine had yet died. This helped reinforce my childish sense of invincibility: death and other disasters were for other people. I and the people I loved would last forever and nothing bad would ever, ever happen to us.
The illusion was beginning to crack.
"What floor does he work on?"
"The eightieth, I think."
Eightieth floor... wow. Oh my. If a plane hit the Twin Towers, then it would pretty have to hit pretty high up, right? Let's say it didn't hit his floor. If he was above it, could he get down? If he was below it, could he make it out before something... awful happened?
The cellphone rang. I picked it up.
Glenna. Glenna's one of my mother's closest friends. After many years in Israel, she was now living in St. Louis. She was closer to the action. She could tell us what was what.
Mechanically, I relayed the information I was reeiving from cross the Atlantic to my mother. Two planes hit the two towers. A plane had hit the Pentagon. The Rose Garden. A bomb in a DC mall. Fighter jets had shot down a plane. Two planes. Hijackers on one plane were negotiting with the authorities. Too much. Too much.
Home. I just wanted to get home. Home was shelter. Home was safe.
My father's back from work early. Pacing. Reciting Tehillim with a manic fervor. My younger brothers are sitting around, confused.
Where's Uncle Marty?
No one knows. No one knows yet. Was he in the tower? Was he in the subway? Out on the street? Was he... was he...
No. This would not happen. This could not happen. I turned all of my childish belief and stubbornness and denial and focused it on one thing and one thing only: Uncle Marty is not dead.
It's Aunt Esther.
"Marty is not dead. He's alive."
Whooping. Hollering. Drawn-out sighs of relief. Amidst it all, I scurry away into the bathroom and bend over the sink, crying, crying tears of relief, the first and only time in my life this has happened to me.
"He's not dead... he's not dead..."
Uncle Marty, it turned out, was late to work that morning and was still in the subway when the first plane hit. From there on, it was only a matter of time until he finally got an open phone line to his house.
And in the bathroom, I wiped my eyes and washed my face and walked out to face the brand new reality.
Where were you when the world changed?
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