I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001 in my fairly new apartment on Staten Island and started to get ready for work, as I did every Tuesday. I put on head-to-toe chocolate brown, from my long sleeved t-shirt all the way down to my platform dress shoes. When I was finally ready to go, I grabbed the shopping bag full of returns from my dresser and left the apartment.
Being that I started later on Tuesdays, the plan was to run some errands before heading to the Synagogue I was working in at the time. Lucky for me, there was a Banana Republic right off the 1/9 subway trains at Cortlandt Street, in the shops below the World Trade Center. I could very easily get off the train, make my returns, jump right back on the train and take it all the way up to my office. At least that was the plan.
My friend Nikki, who worked with me at the time, took the Staten Island Ferry with me every morning into Manhattan, but on this day, she was running late and had to take the boat after mine. It was a beautiful morning, and my ferry ride was completely uneventful. I got off the boat, and hopped on the subway, heading uptown.
A couple of minutes, and two stops later, the train arrived at Cortlandt Street. As the doors opened, I got up to get off, but before I could, the doors abruptly shut. A short while later, an announcement was made over the system that there was a possible shooting, and due to a "police investigation,” we were being held in the station. Of course I was annoyed because not only did I not get to make my returns, I was now going to be late for work as well. After what felt like an eternity, the train started moving, and we left the station.
A short while later, I made it to the Synagogue to find my boss crying. She said something along the lines of “Thank G-d you’re safe.” Confused, I looked at her and asked what she was talking about. She told me that two planes flew into the Twin Towers and both the towers were gone. I looked at her like she was crazy because I was literally just stuck on a train there. It wasn’t until later on that I saw the footage of what actually had happened, and realized that my train just made it out of the Cortlandt Street Station before the towers collapsed.
Everything about that day has stayed with me. My boss and I watched a TV with very bad reception up in the sanctuary at work, and feared that Synagogues were the next targets. Most phones were down, but I managed to find a pay phone that worked to call my mother and let her know I was alright. Her response and "concern" is definitely something I'll never forget.
As the day went on, and I realized that there was no way for me to get back to Staten Island, I headed downtown to the apartment on Grand Street where I had lived with my Grandfather. There were no trains going downtown, so I walked from the Synagogue, and as I passed 14th Street and continued downward, the dust-clouds around me became more and more intense, and the stench was overwhelming. I spent the night on the couch of my old apartment staring out the window, looking at the clouds of smoke rising from where the Twin Towers once stood. It would be a few days before I was able to return to my apartment on Staten Island.
Fast forward to today... September 11, 2019
Much like I did on that day eighteen years ago, I woke up and got dressed for work. I took the ferry into Manhattan, and hopped on the 1 train. A couple of minutes and two stops later, I found myself at the World Trade Center/Cortlandt Street Station, pretty much around the same time as on that very day eighteen years ago. The station had been destroyed when the towers collapsed in 2001, and finally reopened earlier in 2019. I'm not going to lie; something about being in that station today of all days freaked me out.
In the name of full transparency, I should confess that despite having been physically at the Twin Towers when everything happened, being underground and unaware of what was going on above me has always given me a feeling of disconnect to the events of that day. Don't get me wrong; knowing what transpired and all the loss suffered, I definitely feel lucky that the train moved when it did. But whenever I look back at the footage from that day, it has always felt like those things happened somewhere else altogether.
After spending most of the day trying to figure out how I could feel so disconnected to what happened years ago, and yet so freaked out all these years later on that train, I decided I needed some time to myself. I took a slight detour on my way home, and found myself, along with many others, at the 9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pools, which are truly breathtaking.
As I stood there reading some of the names of those lost on that tragic day, it occurred to me that in Judaism, the number eighteen represents Chai, or life. I know how random that sounds, but for some reason, that one odd thought completely helped me understand what I was feeling all day today.
Life is so very precious, and not something any of us should take for granted. Think about all those people who woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001 for the last time. Or those people who kissed their loved ones good-bye, not realizing it would be for the last time. I think the lesson to learn in this is to live life to the fullest, because it’s not guaranteed.
It once again occurred to me tonight how lucky I was that my train left that station when it did eighteen years ago. The reality is had it waited just a little longer, the outcome could have been very different, and I may not have lived to see today. It’s kind of a scary thought to have, and one that really puts things in perspective.
Like me, we all have our stories about where we were or what we were doing on September 11, 2001. That day changed the world, and life as we knew it, forever. But no matter where you were that day, let us lead our best lives, and be better versions of ourselves.
Not just for us, but for all those lost that day.