roamin' catholic: karin rosner


Posted on: September 10, 2011

New Yorkers’ individual stories of where they were and what they were doing, form a mosaic. This is my small contribution to the wall of memories.

If I had been down at Trinity Wall Street that morning, like I had planned to be, would I have been able to outrun the dust cloud?

I was on the phone when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, at my temp job. The phone call I was trying to place was to the operations manager of the nonprofit where  I desperately wanted a job interview  that morning. Their office was around the corner from the multiple series of buildings that was WTC.

Everything in my office  went quiet.  I stood up in my cubicle when I heard the sudden hush. I looked out over the cubicle wall towards he south-facing window, saw the view of a tiny upper portion of the Twin Towers, and saw the smoke.

Someone had a radio and turned it up as loud as it would crank: a plane had hit one of the towers.

Every worker  stopped in front of the windows; we couldn’t move from the view of smoke rising above Manhattan.  A small plane? Pilot error on an absolutely clear day?

Second plane on the radio: a dead-on hit as we still stood in front of the skyscraper windows. We did not see where it hit, or we did see, or we did not, or we did see… but we did see more smoke, a second plume of black.

I suddenly had no cell phone service. Very few people did on Manhattan island.

The manager came over the PA with the news, and told us to remain where we were for now, and try to get back to work if we could.

My Godfather was one of the engineers who worked on erecting these buildings that were safer than safe. He was on the golf course that morning, I later found out. My friends were in that office where I wanted a job, and I prayed for them to be safe. I left another voice mail for the Ops Manager, with some kind of crazy message about hoping that she and everyone else were OK.

I called my dad from my desk phone, and he answered. Not all of New York’s wireless was knocked out.  He was also on a golf course in Westchester and able to get back to the Bronx to be with my mother. Mom was entering the final stages of dementia and watching soothing repetitive TV, should not have been alone and should not have been watching any of this on cable… not that she would’ve understood the horrors that were going to be replayed on every channel again and again and again… Please turn to the Weather Channel, Mom. Please do not watch. Please be asleep. Please.

My sister was working in Westchester. My brother was the only other member of my nuclear family in Manhattan and we were the two people who were stranded.  He had his motorcycle and he was determined to get off Manhattan Island, over to the Bronx and home, somehow.  Good luck with that, I thought to myself. I’ll wait for Death or the Subway… or death in the Subway…

What I was thinking the most about was SHIT: the CBS network broadcast center was less than a block away, and occupied offices in the same building that I was in, as did CNN. I had met 60 Minutes’ Andy Rooney in the elevator. In a war, media centers get knocked out first. It doesn’t matter that my temp work was for a health insurance company. Get out. Get out. Get out. (My office building was targeted in the whole anthrax scare during the  following weeks… and that’s another story.)

The first tower collapsed. 15 minutes later, we were given the option to get out of the building and take the rest of the day off if we wanted to.

I wanted to. There was no way I was going to get home to my family, to my mom any time soon. I made my way to a church that was one of my home bases in the city, where I knew that many of my friends, and the people in that nonprofit,  would make their way to eventually. I wanted to wait with the comforting crowd. The church was a very long 12 block walk march uphill and over, which I walked with hundreds of others who deliberately made their way through streets with no cars, or buses.

The City was at a complete standstill. No one needed to tell us that in an emergency, the City ceases to exist as we know it: no public transportation runs. Walk or run….but don’t panic. If you panic…

We were calm as we walked. We were courteous. We were resolute. Each of us looked into the eyes of strangers passing by and we saw brotherhood or sisterhood reflected back,  in blue eyes, green, hazel, brown, almond, round… we  looked directly into  each others sad gazes and asked silently or aloud if the other was OK. And then we did what we needed, or what we could… and stopped… and then moved back on to the next block in our march of resolve.

I  found my group of friends in the church. One of my friends was a priest on staff, and her husband was the director of the nonprofit. She was no where to be found, but we prayed for her, and her husband, and for everyone else, and waited for the news.

It took hours for people to walk uptown from lower Manhattan. Some of us handed out bottles of water on the Park Avenue sidewalk to anyone who needed a drink.

One of the members of the church told us how she saw the hijacked jets turn and deliberately use Park Avenue’s miles’ long strip of grass, plants and shrubs lining the wide boulevard from 96th Street to Grand Central Station at 42nd street as a kind of air strip, pointing the planes directly  southward to their target.

As people came in to the church, some covered with debris from the collapse, many of us, armed with pails of water, rags and sponges, gently wiped their faces clean while they rested in the pews.

Many of us just sat, listened to prayers collectively read aloud from the pulpit, and prayed.

The church had many members who worked in Finance, in the WTC.

Someone let us know that Father Mychal Judge had died in the attack. I had met Fr. Mike several times through other church work I had done. Fr. Mike was all over the City, seemingly everywhere. And everyone knew him.  I finally cried.  And then later, we learned how he died, or at least the legend befitting him that rose among The Bravest. Saint Mychal, Almost-Angel, defend us in battle…

In my group, we were determined to visit Lee,  who was lying in Coler-Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island, as soon as the City decided to re-start the transit system. Lee was homeless, we believed, and had been among us for a very long time. He had been hit by a City bus a few weeks before in August, and lay in the hospital, suffering from extensive paralysis.  Goldwater had a bad rep, ages old.  It is still said, people go to Goldwater to die. The tram to the little Island development on the East River would not be working for a very long time, but the trains and buses would run, eventually.

We heard good news of safety; we heard sad news of death; we heard that the team from the nonprofit were indeed safe and had made it in.

When the trains started running again late that afternoon, my group walked  a few blocks over to the line that ran to the island. When we climbed the stairs to the surface on Roosevelt Island,  viewing what should have been a gloriously gorgeous late afternoon, we saw what we were unable to see from Park and 51st –  a clear shot that proved that the towers were GONE. We saw the smoke to the south.

One of my friends (and I will never, ever forget this) remarked… “what  a beautiful day!”

It had been a incredibly spectacularly beautiful morning, gone horribly wrong, but we had prayed and trusted God to make it right as the light faded. Human beings on Manhattan Island struggled to be kind and human to strangers,  despite despair, sadness, shock, fear… there was a kind of beauty in this, of the Divinely Triumphant kind.

We visited with Lee. We read the morning’s normal New York Times with him. The man lying in the bed next to him had been horribly disfigured in a fire, on a ventilator, staring into space, and he was obviously dying. This seemed to be hospice, not hospital.  Lee communicated with us by pointing to a board filled with letters with what little movement remained in his hand.

Eventually, we all made our ways back to the other parts of Manhattan, to the outer Boroughs, to New Jersey… we got home.

And then, when I couldn’t resist the urge to turn the TV on any longer, I flipped to NY1 and  I saw the pictures that made the story complete: all of the footage, from crash to crash,  death to death, collapse, collapse.

And then I learned about The Pentagon and Shanksville.

I must force myself to remember that it was not just only New York that was the target of terror. I don’t think I’m the only New Yorker who is guilty of this.

I’ve been asked about my story several times. I’ve grown tired of telling it and want it to fade…. I think.


1 Response to "9/11/01"

Thank you for sharing, Karin.

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