What do you see out of your window today?

9/11/2001 - Each Of Us Has A Story

Sep 11 2023

AP File Photo/Alexandre Fuchs

It has been 22 years since 2 jetliners with full fuel tanks slammed into my world of lower Manhattan, another crashed into my childhood hometown and the 4th in Pennsylvania. In many ways, I think of it as my story. But, then it is my family’s story, my neighborhood’s story, my city’s story, my country’s story, but moreover, it really is a global story.

Every person on this planet can attest to a way that 9/11 touched their life. Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, France, I can’t list them all, all have their stories from 9/11. Whether from people who died on the planes, died in the Towers, or were among the hundreds of thousands who have died in the wars sparked by this horror. My family was unhurt physically but we were uprooted from our home across the street from the Trade Center and moved 5 times in the next 4 years as we struggled to find a new home. We were traumatized and continue to adjust to that trauma. But 9/11 happened in New York City on one day. In comparison to the years of war and upheaval that continues to torment Afghanistan 22 years later and the pain Iraqis have suffered, I can’t complain.

Here are a few stories from that day.

My friend Jack Siler, who died this year at 94, had made a nice living importing wine from France. After 9/11, anyone who was against the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan became an enemy of the U.S. - an if you aren’t with us, you’re against us policy prevailed. The French did not choose to follow the U.S. into war and so the French were “against us”  and an enemy. French fries became Freedom Fries. French wine was no longer welcome or in fashion. The bottom fell out of Jack’s business. Importing wine from France was hit with prohibitive new regulations, shops didn’t want to sell it. Suddenly he was struggling and living hand to mouth when before he had lived well.

My dear friend, Nira, who lived in our building had welcomed her mother from Israel on 9/10/2001. When the first plane hit, her mother, who knew a thing or two about terrorist attacks from living in Israel, ran out of the building to grab her grandson at daycare around the corner. When they got outside one of the 2 buildings collapsed and grandmother and grandson were engulfed in the cloud of monstrous, hallowed and hazardous dust and debris of 107 stories from one of the Towers. Grandmother pulled off her blouse and put it over her toddler grandson’s head to protect his little lungs and they ran, somehow making it to a boat that took them to New Jersey where grandmother in her bra and skirt and grandson wearing her blouse were rinsed in showers and left to figure out what to do next.

I had a friend who moved here as a refugee from Nicaragua, where she had had a good job in an office. In New York City she cleaned apartments to provide for her family. Her daughter, grew up and secured a job in the Trade Center. This was an important job in one of the big companies in the Trade Center. My friend’s daughter, Carolina, was living the American Dream. She was succeeding and fulfilling her mother’s promise. All the hard work her mother had done to provide a better life for her children was coming to fruition with Carolina. When the plane hit and the building was on fire, she called her mother to tell her how frightened she was and that they were told to stay in place, that that was the safest plan. My friend hoped against hope that her precious Carolina might have survived, desperately reaching out to anyone who might offer hope. I could offer none. No one could.

There was a sweet man who was a fruit vendor on Liberty Street at the foot of the Trade Center. All day, 5 days a week, he stood outside selling fruit from a cart. His name was Muhammed and he had a limp and worked to send money home to his children, and shame on me but I can’t remember which country he was from, was it Pakistan, I think so. And when my children and I stopped to buy fruit from Muhammed he would always give them something, in spite of my protests. And when we parted and told him we would see him again, he always said, “Inshallah” and we repeated, “Inshallah” to him. It took a while, but I heard that this sweet Muslim man survived somehow, in spite of his limp he managed to find safety on 9/11 and continued to sell fruit in another part of the City.

On 9/11, out my window I watched a man duck under a piece of playground equipment with a baby in his arms moments before that same cloud that had engulfed grandmother and grandson rained down on this man and baby. And when the cloud engulfed, total darkness dropped with it. There was no light. I could not see my hand in front of my face - on this crystal blue sky of a day. I did not see what became of the man and baby.

These are five stories. Every person I know has a story about that day, or about what that day meant to them, to their future, to their family. I know people who missed their flight that day and that flight was one of the ones that crashed. I know people who missed going up into the Towers because the elevator left before they could get on. One man told me his bank card got stuck in the ATM in the Tower lobby causing him to be struggling with that when the plane hit so he ran away to safety. It was a day when a group of misguided men believing that they would be met by a bunch of celestial virgins, felt justified in skittering the world off its metaphorical axis just enough to upend life all over the world for decades to come.

Every one of us on this planet has a story about 9/11. Soldiers, children, fruit vendors, wine importers, none of us is untouched. I know that you have a story, an observation about that day. It’s likely that you would like others to know that story. At History Chip, we preserve stories like yours. We add them to this archive so that all people’s stories can be honored, preserved and read for generations. Please add your story. It has a place here where it will always be treasured and available for readers worldwide.