I’ve been on the fence about writing anything about 9/11. But I can’t let it go, which must mean something. For me, September 2011 was marred by difficult transitions and horrible personal tragedy. It’s been ten years, but in many ways it feels like yesterday.
I moved to Chicago the last days of August 2011. September was supposed to be a month of new beginnings. Viola was from Chicago, had just finished graduate school and was forced to return to take care of her terminally-ill father. I chose to follow her. Neither of us was prepared for the next 30+ days.
I moved to Chicago with no job with one semester left in grad school (only my recital and comp exams remaining), a new apartment, and a fresh start…with my eventual wife to be. Within a week of moving here, I found a job. My start date: 9/11.
It was supposed to be a good morning. Instead, Viola woke me up telling me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I jumped up, turned on the small 13-inch TV in the bedroom to The Today Show and about 20 minutes later watched the second plane crash into the second tower. I was stuck in bed. Shocked. Scared. Uncertain of what was happening, like much of the country. Katie Couric’s voice cracked as she tried to figure out on live television what was happening; just blocks away from the inevitable collapse of the Twin Towers.
After forcing myself to peel my eyes away from the screen, I showered to get ready for my new part-time job. I then proceeded to eat breakfast as I heard more devastating news: A plane had crashed into the Pentagon. It was the moment broadcasters confirmed that planes colliding into buildings minutes apart from each other was an act of terrorism.
It must have been an hour…and then IT happened.
I ended up going to work, not knowing if work was open for business. It was. It was also an impractical day to start a new job at a public library, but it was the only thing that felt “normal” about the day. Our apartment was along the path of landing planes for O’Hare airport and it was odd to not hear planes go overhead in the days that immediately followed. It was a quite reminder after we had to turn the TV off later that evening.
After putting in my first four hours, we visited Viola’s father in the nursing home. He was in a coma caused by liver failure. We knew his time was approaching, but didn’t realize that it was just weeks away. I remember sitting by his bedside watching people tell their stories. The most emotional, heart-breaking tale was of Cantor Fitzgerald; watching CEO Howard Lutnick weep about the loss of his staff.
It was tragedy compounded by tragedy that numbed the senses and our state of being for weeks. And somehow, I had to find the effort and energy to prepare for my final graduate recital just six weeks away after we buried him. At the time I selected my music, I planned on competing in the Guitar Foundation of America Classical Guitar competition. But that never happened.
Instead, I just wanted to get through my recital and finish with school. Needless to say, finding the time to practice when first arriving in Chicago was a major challenge. After the funeral in late September, I had six weeks to relearn the hardest music I had ever played. Thankfully, the recital went OK. It was done. And after the hellish previous 12 weeks, it was a relief.
There are some many little things that come to mind, it’s impossible to write them all down. I recall during the evening of 9/11 turning on the TV hoping late night shows would bring a crack of a smile, but even the comics couldn’t bring themselves to tell a joke. It made the day even more sobering. I remember the days that followed feeling a number of emotions flow through me – anger, sadness, fear, forgiveness, rage and inspiration.
Whatever craziness we went through, seemed liked a distant second compared to the devastation that happened in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington DC. We wept. Both for our loss and for the families who lost love ones from the devastation. I don’t pretend to think that what we had deal with was the same. But the fact we were dealing with loss put us in a similar mindset as with the people in these three cities who were grieving as well. Tragedy is tragedy, regardless of where or how it happens.
As much I wish I could forget that period of my life, it’s a time I can’t ever forget. I often say that time is the greatest healer, but in this case, it just makes recalling this time a little more tolerable.
- 9/11 generation finds its voice (cnn.com)
- Cantor Fitzgerald: surviving 9/11, and thriving (sfgate.com)