On Sept. 10, 2001, the phone rang early in my California home. My youngest brother, who lived in Indiana, sometimes ignored the time difference. After I grabbed the phone and said hello I told him, “Larry, don’t call before 10 a.m. your time unless the world is coming to an end.”
The next morning the phone rang even earlier. I groggily asked, “Is the world ending?” My brother’s reply was “Turn on the TV.” I did, just in time to see the plane hit the second tower, and watched transfixed as the buildings collapsed. The world as we knew it did end that day.
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, where many people (including my dad) took the train into “the city” to work each day. I spent the day calling everyone I knew back there to make sure they were okay. It took me hours to reach my aunt, who lived and worked in Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, the phone lines were overloaded.
When I finally connected with my family in Brooklyn, my aunt described the ashes and shreds of paper that were raining from the sky over her home. Like many fortunate people would later relate, she told of a last-minute decision to postpone going into New York City that morning.
Fate seems so arbitrary at times. We heard stories of people whose lives were saved by missing a flight and learned of others who lost their lives because they rushed to make an earlier flight than planned.
There were people who were late to work that day and missed the disaster, and others who happened to be at an early morning conference at Windows on the World and lost their lives. Michael Lomonaco, who was the culinary director at that restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors of the north tower, had stopped at LensCrafters in the shopping concourse on his way to work, and survived. “I heard the roar of the jet engines. I looked up at the moment of impact,” he said of seeing the second plane hit the south tower. There were 79 employees and 91 restaurant guests who were lost to us that day.
We learned lessons that day, some good and some bad, but sadly I don’t think the really important ones stayed with us. We should have learned that time was fleeting and unpredictable, that helping other people matters, and that we are a stronger nation when we come together. It’s painful to think of how much better things might be today if we had only clung harder to those beliefs.
If I answer a text or an email early in the morning, and it’s obvious that I’m awake, my brother Larry will still sometimes call before the sun comes up, but over the last 20 years I have learned to welcome the chance to connect with family and friends, no matter how early or late it comes.
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