36. Dealing With Disaster – Part 1

For this post on disaster and its aftermath, my wife can tell her story better than I can.

The day was sunny, the air crisp, the temperature perfect. It was my second day arriving at work after a whirlwind tour of Italy. I was just about to enter the converted bank where my office was located when a loud thud resounded, unlike any noise I had ever heard. At the same time, a chorus of male voices exclaimed “Whoa!”

The human mind always tries to make sense of the stimuli it receives, so my first thought was that an accident had occurred at a nearby building that was under construction. Yet, to my ears, the voices expressed astonishment rather than panic. I entered my building with the hope that no one at the construction site was seriously injured.

A few minutes later, everyone in my office learned from a radio broadcast what had really happened. We all ran the couple of blocks to the park on the pier and saw the smoke. Just then, the second jet smashed into the upper levels of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I saw an enormous fireball blast out the opposite side of where the jet had entered the tower. People around me screamed and cried. One of my co-workers was beside herself; I put my arm around her and held her close.

Instinctively, I knew that at least one of the damaged towers would collapse. That was not something I wanted to witness even from “safely” across the river in Hoboken, N.J. Still with my arm around the young woman, I returned to our office. A few minutes later, the South Tower crashed down, soon followed by the North Tower.

There are only two roads in and out of Hoboken, and they were immediately blocked off by first responders. The feeling of being cut off from escape routes plus not knowing what would happen next – would there be more attacks? if so, where? – was beyond frightening. When our boss dismissed us from work, I headed to the train depot. I depended on trains for transportation to and from work. One of those train lines, the PATH, was affected directly by the terrorist attacks because its terminus was beneath the World Trade Center. Service immediately ceased on the PATH. Fortunately, I was able to ride NJ Transit, which stopped at additional stations for the benefit of the shell-shocked passengers.

I was happy to arrive home, fairly sure that my small town would not be on the radar of any terrorist that day. The misguided imbeciles were too busy attacking the Pentagon and being thwarted at Stonycreek Township (near Shanksville), Pennsylvania.

Life continued, as it must. Service was restored quickly to PATH, and I kept going to work. For months, at the PATH stops I kept seeing fliers with the picture of a young man that sought information on the whereabouts of “Jose Lopez,” or something like that. The flyer said that his family loved him and was anxious to find him and that he might be wandering around in a daze. I knew better and just about cried every time I saw that flyer.

A dark cloud hung about me. I don’t know if it was noticeable to others. I thought, something positive has to come out of this terrible event. Surely, we will learn to get along better with each other and that violence is not a persuasive tool.

But I saw no such change in the people around me. Soon, everyone was getting a cellphone and burying their faces in them. MySpace and Facebook cropped up, as did “reality” television shows about do-nothing people who were “famous for being famous.” Women were still allowing themselves to be hypersexualized and commoditized. Men struggled with insecurities over how they should act and what roles they should fulfill. The rich became even richer, and the middle class began its descent into oblivion. Wars to “end” terrorism and to hinder imagined weapons of mass destruction began. People were too eager to return to their old patterns of thinking and living, however selfish and limiting they were.

I was losing hope. I was losing faith in humanity.

In the midst of that despair, I met Anton. Before long, I understood that he was the man who should be my partner for life, however long that might be. The price of love is the eventual loss of the loved one; it is a price we are both willing to pay.

Even with a happy marriage, it took five years for the dark cloud to lift. When it did, I ended up with a clearer view of life and of humanity.

It would be monumental if this pandemic were to make us more compassionate and more determined to remove obstacles to equality in all things.

But, frankly, this time I’m not investing too much hope in this.

Paradise, ever again? – Oahu, Hawai’i courtesy of “Anton”

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