The following came from my Aunt Paula, who relocated to Pennsylvania a few years back. She is the mother of my cousin Christopher, who I am not ashamed to say I have buckets of respect and admiration for, especially in light of the story below. I too spoke with Chris the other day, shying away from discussing his traumatic experiences of the past 48 hours. He was just returning my frantic messages, assuring me that he was indeed okay after that fateful Tuesday, the 11th of September (previously my birthday, forevermore now an entirely different anniversary).

We can come from two ends of the spectrum at times, my cousin and I: Chris is a New York City cop, and I work in a liberal not-for-profit agency, often ribbing him about the dark side of the NYPD. Despite that, we regularly get together to discuss the latest in the world of comic books over a few pints. "Officer Fer-Fer", after reading about what you went through that day and how you conducted yourself, I have to say that you're a real-life superhero! (Of course he'll blow off any praise by saying "Just doing my job.") Thanks, Aunt Paula, for recounting Chris' experiences so well.

Now read on...

Thursday, September 13, 2001

I spoke with Chris by phone for about 45 minutes yesterday. The following is a very brief account of what he experienced Tuesday.

He is OK, thank God! After spending about 11 hours on duty he was sent home by a hospital in lower Manhatten to rest for a day. More about that later. He is on call as we speak and expects to return any time. His detail arrived on the scene just after the collapse of the first tower. He, his partner and 1 other officer were immediately separated from the rest of the group. The TV does not even begin to show the pandemonium in the streets. Chunks of steel and concrete falling from the towers, people jumping from (what he estimates) 70-80 stories, smoke and dust so thick that you cloud not see or breathe in some cases. They rushed to help some bewildered firemen who were standing helplessly as people lay dying literally at their feet. Chris was told that the best that they could do would be to help evacuate people who were running in all directions looking for their children and other family members. When the second tower began to fall people began running north to try to outrun the debris billowing up the street. Chris and his party ran west to the Hudson River carrying 2 of 3 children of a family running in the same direction. They found a path in a park that ran at river's edge. Out of nowhere 2 ferry boats appeared whose captains shouted for Chris and his partner to help them load as many people as they could find. So they spent the next who knows how long herding people in that direction.

He says he does not have any conception of time and just remembers seeing people pleading for help in getting out and in finding loved ones. One mother and father insisted on running in the direction of the collapse to try to find their baby and babysitter who were somewhere in the vicinity. It was hours and hours of seeing unbelievable things that he will not even talk about.

Early evening he came upon his sargeant who had been injured and who asked Chris to help him get to a hospital. The streets were impassable so they walked a good distance north through Chelsea (that is for Harry to identify with) to a hospital. Chris said that as they passed stores and shops the storekeepers ran to give them cold drinks and several said, "God bless you, officers." After getting to the hospital, and getting the sargeant help, the doctors saw his difficulty breathing, treated him for smoke and dust inhalation and sent him home for 1 day to rest. He didn't argue.

This has made me realize how much of a New Yorker I have become. I am so proud of Chris and everyone I saw on TV. These firemen and policeman are SO young. I danced at his wedding with some of these young men, have chatted at David's first birthday party with others. He says everyone has so much respect for the firemen. They are taking the brunt of all of this. So many of the companies have sustained terrible losses. The young fireman that is a friend of Kim's is not on the missing list, but we have not had word of him. She had two others friends who worked at the Towers — no word of them either.

There are so many touching stories: the policeman who was blinded by dust and who was lead into a church by a young boy. The adults there washed out his eyes with holy water and he went back on duty. The priest who was giving last rites on the scene and who was crushed when the second tower fell. Four firemen carried his body to the church across the street until they could take it to their engine house where they prayed over his body. The stories sound contrived, but these are two that I heard on TV in the last 2 days. There will be so many stories to come out of this. Chris and family have planned to come here for a visit in a few weeks. I sure he will have much more to tell.

I cannot believe that the Towers are gone. When I saw them fall one by one I kept saying to Wayne, "I can't believe this" — they were always the first signs that you were close to home. Nor can I believe that there are warships off the coast of LI and NY Harbor, that there are armed National Guardsmen riding the LIRR, and that there are jets flying aircover over NYC! I never thought that I would see the day when there were no cars in the GW Bridge. I believe that, like The Phoenix, the city will rise again from these ashes. As one of the NYFD captains said when Pataki complimented him and his men on the good job thay had done in the rescue and removel of debris, "What da ya expect, we're New Yorkas."

I have gone on much longer than I had expected, but this has been so devastating to those of us who have connections to NYC — not to leave out the terrible loss in the other places and with the passengers in the four planes. Certainly a time for all to band together. Thank you all for your prayers, calls and e-mails. Chris goes back on duty shortly. God be with him and his fellow NYPD officers as well as the members of NYFD. We continue to be hopeful about Mike, our young fireman friend. I'll keep any of you posted that want to be keep informed. At this time I am proud to be a Pennsylvanian, but no less proud to be a New Yorker.

 

  

9/13/01

Mike, the young fireman friend mentioned above, has been accounted for. He is safe & sound.

9/14/01

From Carol J...

Thank you for sharing that wonderful story. Chris is indeed a hero. I agree that there will be many like that in the days and weeks ahead. My sister's boyfriend is also a firefighter and is there now. He is assigned to Queens so he wasn't there during the initial stages but he was called to Brooklyn to replace a company who was. As soon as he got off duty, he went straight to Manhattan to spend his "day off" looking for survivors. He is still there and we think he's ok but we haven't heard from him in a while.

Two people I know were there when the first plane hit. One was a co-worker who had a 9 am meeting on the 78th floor. Fortunately, he was just entering the building so he never got upstairs. He saw the worst of it from the ground. He came to work on Wednesday red-eyed and sobbing. When we asked why he didn't stay home, he said he needed to be with people. We hugged and cried all day.

The other person works... worked... in the south tower. She was on the 22nd floor so she was able to flee before the collapse. Needless to say, she is also shaken. But thank God, safe.

Take care of yourself. It's good to hear despite the circumstances. From now on, I think your birthday should be September 10, the day before the world changed.


From Bill (Dr. T)...

I'm OK — I was supposed to be at the South Street Sea Port for breakfast at 9 AM that morning but decided on a later train at the last minute — of course, that meant I never made it in. I feel VERY blessed.


Cousin Chris, his wife and baby son came over today and saw this page for the 1st time. They were touched by the tribute, and I suspect just a bit embarrassed. But it's times like these that we have to show our loved ones how much they're appreciated, especially when they're doing such wonderful work.

9/15/01

Kathy, an old college friend who now lives in Virginia, had this to report...

We've seen so much on TV in the past few days but many of us, including myself, were spared the loss (or near loss) of a loved one. However, like countless others are doing in the wake of this unexplainable, tragic event, I feel the need to share something with those I care about.

For me personally, having witnessed the explosion at the Pentagon from my office building in Arlington shortly after it occurred, it reminded me of my own mortality. It also made me think of all the things I am grateful for, most especially my family and friends. It shouldn't take something as horrible as these terrorist attacks to prompt us to acknowledge our loved ones but somehow I feel like I need to do this now. While I haven't seen some of you in a while or kept in regular contact, each person I have sent this to has been a very important part of my life. I want to thank you for that and for allowing me to share this with you.


Images of mourning crossing all national borders, around the world, courtesy of Christina. We are one in our grief.

9/17/01

Local band WhattaDay announces benefit shows for The World Trade Center Relief Fund: Oct 6 at LaGuardia College and others TBA.


Here's a free-form piece I wrote, inspired by my last visit to the Trade Center about a year and a half ago...

Ruminations at World Trade Center Plaza
Saturday, May 6, 2000

Sitting here at the scene of monster movies, terrorist bomb threats, Simpsons episodes and love stories. One of the greatest of humanity's architectural achievements. Gawking up at the immense Twin Towers like a tourist and not caring. Stretching to the sky, my mind can't comprehend their sheer magnitude and the moment becomes surreal, out of a painting.

Humanity in all its diversity passes my stone bench. The rebellious tough-guy biker speeding away from shouting, overweight security guards. "No riding in the courtyard!" Two young kids (boyfriend and girlfriend?) laying on their backs looking up at the Towers like I suddenly long to do. The couple necking by the water sculpture. The punk rock woman smoking a cigarette, walking purposefully towards Tower #2. Each drifting unconsciously towards me rather than walking through the open, agoraphobic courtyard, then repelled by a New Yawker's fear of encroaching on personal space.

As I write this I remember that my name "Torres" means "towers" in my native tongue that I do not speak. Sitting here in the midst of people, yet separate from them, feeling as one yet apart.

The lights go on as dusk descends and strains of instrumental "La Bamba" drift from who-knows-where. Rain starts to fall and I seek shelter in the Tower.

9/18/01

Aunt Paula sends another thought-provoking piece, this time a consideration of the "other" side, a commentary from Tamim Ansary, a writer and columnist in San Francisco, who comes from Afghanistan...

I've been hearing a lot of talk about "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio today, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but "we're at war, we have to accept collateral damage. What else can we do?" Minutes later I heard some TV pundit discussing whether we "have the belly to do what must be done."

And I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here for 35 years I've never lost track of what's going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I'm standing.

I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters.

But the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country.

Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, and suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan — a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.

We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.

New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban-by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time.

So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout. It's much bigger than that folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West. And guess what: that's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants. That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the west. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the west wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the West would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?


All the American flag-waving has also got Bill (Dr. T) thinking on the nature of nationalism...

I'm still numb — but now I'm also becoming reflective: I'm glad to see all the American Flags sprouting EVERYWHERE, but (for fear of sounding like a bleeding-heart liberal) where were the flags when we destroyed the entire Native American culture in our country or when millions of slaves died in bondage and on slave ships. O, some waved their flags about the slaves — and that became a civil war. But the Native peoples? Not much. Remember your history? Andrew Johnson stood before the Congress and said, "With the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other, we have no choice but to wipe out the savages." (ie. the Natives who were trying to defend their lands)

I think what happened last week was a horror beyond measure. But in the larger view of history, it's part of what's been going on since the beginning of recorded history: People (including we Americans) claim the "right" — often on religious grounds — to justify slaughter (recall the Crusades? — now there's a highlight of enlightened thinking!) What happened was awful, but there are NO innocent hands here — every culture, religion and political group, including Americans, has committed its equivalent of the WTC slaughter. Ask any Armenian about the Turkish, any Jew about the Nazis, any Bosnian, any Israeli, any Palestinian, any Sioux, any Northern Irish... they'll gladly tell you the price of being "right" and being "wrong."

Last week was unspeakable. But it wasn't the first time in human history and it won't be the last. I just hope that when this happens again in another nation that we will wave our flags in the same show of support that's being shown us.


And now for something completely different...
CLICK HERE (Thanks, Lou)

Please consider donating to these worthwhile causes during this time of need...

BiasHELP
New York and Washington may represent the biggest individual hate crimes ever. But perpetuating further acts of violence against innocent people based on national origin is not the way to punish the guilty parties. Learn how to avoid following tragedy with irrational hate.

Long Island Association for AIDS Care (LIAAC)
The tragedies in New York and Washington, D.C. have not dimmed the fact that AIDS remains one of the largest killers of Americans today, and there is still no cure. LIAAC provides many services to Long Islanders infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

More Resources & to Light an e-Candle