On that day, that will live in infamy, I was employed as a lawyer in an office across the street from the church on Vesey Street and Broadway. At the moment the first plane hit, I was directly under the twin towers in the number 2 subway on my way to court in Brooklyn. The day was crisp and beautiful with a warm sun and a blue sky.
As I climbed the steps up from the subway, I heard an announcement that the N and R trains were canceled due to “the incident” at the towers.
I knew in that moment that the day was significant.
I turned my gaze back toward Manhattan and saw the plume of charcoal smoke rising from the site of the Twin Towers. I immediately called my dad to tell him that I was safe as no one knew yet what had happened. While on the phone with him, he watched as the second plane hit. At that moment he thought they were showing the first plane not realizing it was a second. Neither of us knew that was what he was watching.
I wanted to walk back to my office across the Brooklyn Bridge but was told it held throngs of people rushing out of downtown and I would not be able to go that way. I called my office and talked to a colleague who was watching people jump from the towers. It was sickening to experience that with him.
When the towers came down, the cell phones were lost. I formed a group of lawyers from the courthouse and we walked to the train station at Flatbush Avenue. People were out on the streets in Brooklyn that day looking dazed. There was solidarity and support and humanity in all the faces. No crime. No anger. No hate. Just shock and support.
At the train station, a swat team in full body armor rushed everyone into the only train in the station. No one knew where it was going, only that it was moving east toward Jamaica and from there we would figure out where to go. No one talked. No one moved. We were crammed together in shock and grief. The cell signals for some providers returned as we traveled east.
A young man I didn’t know and never saw before or since asked if he could borrow my cell phone as my signal had returned and his had not. He called his mother in law who came to the station to pick him up and he offered me a ride home as thanks for being able to use my phone.
When I returned to the area less than a week later, it was covered in dust. There was a metallic smell. I saw personal items on the streets. I hugged the doorman and the coffee guy. These were the people whose faces you passed daily but whose names you never knew. They became important.
The police and firefighters worked together at the site and our office building provided free lunches for them in the cafeteria. That floor had windows that allowed them to gaze at the site from above. I provided them with office supplies, coffee, a painting of Iwo Jima, whatever they needed and two officers gave me a tour of the site, which was like being in a war zone. Dust and debris. The bookstore at 5 World Trade was abandoned but intact. Frozen in time. They took it down in coming weeks with a wrecking ball. I can still hear that sound. I can also still hear the church bells tolling in the weeks ahead and every year on the anniversary. From breathing that air daily for the next few months as the dust settled, I have a chronic cough. It’s a reminder.
It was a time of shock. It was a time of universal grief and sadness. It was a time of solidarity. New Yorkers stepped up to support one another recognizing that this group of terrorists was the enemy. Islam was not the enemy, these fanatics were.
In 20 years, we have forgotten what it was like to support one another in all our differences and to love one another. My wish is that it doesn’t take another massive tragedy to bring us to a place of love and acceptance. We need to find our way.
Editor’s note: Jane Quattrocchi is a resident of Shohola, Pa.