9-11: Personal recollections and lessons

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:11

    What happened 10 years ago this Sunday in New York City, in D.C. and on a field here in Pennsylvania was a defining moment in American life. It also was, in many, many ways, very personal. We asked some of our readers, friends and neighbors if they would share those thoughts in short essays, under the theme of “The lessons of Sept. 11.” Here are some of those essays. 'Carefully taught’ School had barely started and we were engaging our students in character education. The Pine Island staff had developed a “Rainbow of Respect and Responsibility” representing seven qualities such as Courage, Respect, Fairness and Honesty. Each class was developing a skit to act out for the school to relate these big concepts to young minds. After all, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” As school started on September 11, the timing of the unfolding terrors was such that none of the students or staff knew of them; I decided not to tell the kids yet, lest we scare them. I asked volunteers coming in to honor this. We all agreed that it was a parent’s decision about how much horror they wanted their children exposed to. That meant my keeping up appearances of a normal day, even keeping the children inside to “practice” indoor recess activities on that beautiful day, because none of us knew what awaited us outside. Our emergency procedures of communication and transportation kicked in. By the end of the day, all students were safely in their parents’ care. That is, all but one of our students: A 7-year old whose firefighter father died in his efforts to save other children’s parents. Many things happened during the rest of the week. I received a call from the principal of a school in my Oklahoma home town—half a continent away. She said they “wanted to help — move concrete; anything. We raised some funds for you to use in any way that will help.” We started a college fund for the young girl—the one with the intense blue eyes like her father’s. Flags flew all across Warwick. So did anger. When somebody threw a rock through a local store window whose owner appeared Middle Eastern, it was a clarion call to me of the urgency in educating young children — “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught; to be afraid of … people whose skin is a different shade … before it’s too late; before you are 6 or 7 or 8; to hate all the people your relatives hate….” We also had many family support meetings, including the presentation of our character skits. I asked our local drama coach what she thought about the appropriateness of going ahead with this celebration. She said: “Years from now, when I reflect on this time and tragedy, I will remember being a part of something good.” Another Rainbow quality was “Responsibility.” My reflections on September 11 involve the many examples of individuals assuming responsibilities that “carefully taught” us all. Jane Hamburger was the principal at Pine Island Elementary School from 1989 to 2011. She retired in June. The question remains I’m not sure I learned anything from Sept. 11 but I came away with a question about myself that I’ve never been able to answer. I wrote about 9/11 for years as a reporter for The Record of Hackensack. The stories were from every angle. For example, one year after the attack I interviewed a woman from Glen Rock who was six months pregnant and whose husband never came home from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. I wrote about life on Sept. 10 as well. When I wrote about the four planes that went down, I realized I could have been on board. Some passengers were flying on business. I’d done that. Some were headed for vacation with their families. I’d done that, too. Sept. 11 started as an ordinary day, turned to calamity, and ended, for me at least, with an impossible question: How would I have responded had I been on Flight 93, the United Airlines plane from Newark to San Francisco? What would I have done had I seen a hijacker holding a box cutter at a flight attendant’s throat? Or if someone barged into the cockpit? What would I have done when I knew the plane was making a U-turn and going downward with no announcement from the pilot? Would I have been frozen in my seat? Would I have understood this was serious beyond comprehension, that I’d never see my family, that soon I would be dead? I like to think I would have been with the courageous people aboard Flight 93 who, we later learned, tried to retake the plane from the killers. I like to think I would have had the courage to follow the indomitable Todd Beamer, the passenger whose last known words before springing into action were, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” Would I have been ready? The question continues to haunt me. Jeff Page is a writer who lives in Warwick. In a moment September 11th, 2001. I remember too well. The morning was pristine. There was not a cloud in the sky. The air was crisp yet the sun was warm. The day felt glorious. I was walking the neighborhood with a friend, talking about the previous night’s school district meeting. We were new Warwick school board members. Suddenly all chaos broke and our world instantly changed. “A plane hit the Twin tower,” someone yelled. We ran cross lots to catch the news as I asked my buddy, “How can that happen??” We got to the house just in time to see the second plane hit. My question was instantly answered. No words were spoken. I fell to my knees as he ran out. The ticker tape writing scrolled across the TV screen for all New York City firemen and police to immediately report to duty. He was a NYC fire chief. In a moment, my girlfriend lost her brother-in-law. A hospital volunteer lost her son. Our district children lost parents and uncles. And that was the last time I saw my neighbor as he had been. For more than a year he lived, worked and labored in that senseless rubble. Having lost his mentor comrade and 80 close buddies, he was never the same. How could he be? How could anyone be? Yet American flags were seen everywhere throughout Warwick. 9-11 became a 9-1-1 help-to-heal call. Strangers were friendlier; people were openly concerned; broken families were supported; churches were crowded and neighbors were prayed for; newcomers fleeing the city were welcome. And our town in the valley “truly” showed it’s caring colors. Warwick, our precious home and community should never be taken for granted. It shall be cherished and loved. And, we should be forever thankful for those dedicated men and women who work 24/7 to keep us safe - in this Valley and beyond. Deb Holton-Smith lives in Warwick. Defining community A few minutes after 9 a.m. on September 11, 2011, I had been writing notes in preparation for a client’s presentation during the Airports Council International Conference in Montreal, Canada. The council represents all the airports in the world and all the executives who run these airports were attending that three-day trade show which began the day before. I was listening to the radio at the time and could not believe what I had just heard, namely, that a commercial airliner from Boston and bound for Los Angeles, had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. I ran over to the exhibition area that was filled with giant television monitors where everyone stood, with helpless and dazed looks on their faces. None of us could believe what was unfolding before our eyes. Everyone’s lives were about to suddenly change and the world was about to become much more complex. As a society we are not prepared for disasters of this magnitude. We cannot easily digest their impact, either. In 1956, Lewis Mumford wrote, in The transformations of Man, that: “Above all we need, particularly as children, the reassuring presence of a visible community, an intimate group that enfolds us with understanding and love, and that becomes an object of our spontaneous loyalty, as a criterion and point of reference for the rest of the human race.” On the long ride home from Montreal I kept thinking about how, despite the two world wars and the periodic fighting that goes on around us each decade, that we seem no closer to understanding each other. Our own definition of community is very inclusive. It means our neighborhood, our town, our county, our region and ultimately, our world. But not everyone shares this definition. We still must find a way to communicate to others that we have much more in common with them than they realize. We must be persistent in overcoming the challenges that others erect if we are ever to become a sustainable society. Peter Lyons Hall lives in Warwick. He is the founder and creator of Warwickinfo.net. The view from the piano It was nearly fourteen years to the day, sitting at the piano of The River Café under the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn side, being inspired by the majesty of the Twin Towers when 9/11 came. I had often tried to visually connect with my counterpart playing on the top floor at Windows on the World, feeling that between us, we had Manhattan in our musical grasp. After the disaster, the restaurant closed for several days and then re-opened to the constant view of smoke rising from the site and a smell - like no other - wafting across the river. The restaurant soon became bustling again, people from all over the world, talking, eating and drinking, the site being so close, still with some smoke and smell coming our way, there remained an undertone of solemnity and awe for a very long time. To this day, still playing at the restaurant, I look over and see the new Freedom Tower under construction and am reminded of the resilience of our culture. Richard Kimball, the musician, composer and teacher, lives in Warwick. 8:46:26 a.m. When I think of 9/11, it is in a series of memory snapshots. I see the color of the sky, so pure that Crayola could name a crayon 9/11 Blue and we would all choose it to draw a perfect day. I see the TV footage of the South Tower collapse. It is there one minute, a burning backdrop for the news anchor, then there is a roar of the collapse, then silence. I see the stricken face of a woman in black, her young children at her side, at the burial of her dead husband at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Washingtonville. In truth, though, I rarely think of 9/11 at all. It was a long time ago, in a different world, a different America. That country is lost to us now. America was destroyed that day, perhaps not in the way Osama bin Laden intended and not right away. In the weeks and months following the attacks, we responded gloriously. We were Americans, and we were one. We joined hands and hearts as we vowed to rebuild what bin Laden had torn down, to stand tall in the face of a common enemy. The light that was America burned so brightly. But in the decade since those first terrible days, that light has sputtered and dimmed. We’ve grown petty and mean, we hurl invectives at one another about mosques and immigrants, our airwaves have filled with hate-mongering. We’ve grown tepid in our response to world suffering - what starvation, where is Somalia, who cares? We are ill-mannered and lazy. We have spawned a political party that draws its strength from stupidity. Racists have won the day, and there seems little outrage as they toss lies like hand grenades at our black president. We have descended into an abyss of suspicion and ignorance, fear and opportunism. Tea Partiers are the carpetbaggers of 9/11, and they are picking over the corpse of what was once our great nation. When I think of 9/11,1 yearn for the rebirth of solidarity. I yearn for the rebirth of determination. I yearn for the rebirth of intelligence. And I yearn for the blue sky of America that we looked up to with confidence until 8:46:26 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. Beth Quinn in a writer living in Goshen. Flashbacks I pulled into the parking area at the Key Bank office on Union Avenue in Newburgh several minutes before 9:00 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. The car radio was tuned to 880 CBS news station. Just as I reached to turn the radio off, there was a news flash. A jet airliner hit the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. My mind flashed back to July 1945 when a B-25 Bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. The 1945 accident was on a rainy, foggy day. Sept. 11, 2001 was a clear sunny day. The radio station switched to a caller who was in an adjacent building overlooking the WTC and saw the destruction. In a high pitched voice, he hysterically screamed and cried as he described the havoc. There was smoke and flames leaping from the upper floors of the North Tower. Then he shouted, incredulously, that another jet hit the South Tower. I sat in my car trying to make sense of this calamity. Two planes? This was not an accident. This was deliberate. Was it the terrorists who bombed the World Trade building in 1993 or the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995? Shortly, the perpetrators of the this dastardly act announced who they were. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda declared war on the United States. This was professionally planned and executed by a rogue organization intent on “destroying” America. The names Bin Laden and al-Qaeda would be forever part of our history like Minutemen, Bull Run and Appomattox. No longer would the Atlantic and Pacific oceans be a barrier. Our airports, political centers, water systems, nuclear facilities, etc., would be endangered. Again, my mind flashed back to Dec. 7, 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. As we declared war on Japan after Pearl Harbor, so too, we now declared war on al-Qaeda. But this war is like no other war. There are no “armies or navies” - just pockets of organized/unorganized groups that attack us anywhere in the world using Kamikaze tactics like suicide bombers, IUD’s, shoulder rockets and possibly nuclear weapons. In an emergency, we call 911. Isn’t it ironic that on (9-11-01) the world was given a wake up call Now, the world must join together to defeat Al Quaida and all terrorists groups. Their message is one of destruction. They cannot and must not succeed. Harvey Horn lives in Monroe. He is a veteran of World War II and a former prisoner of war.