Thursday, September 11, 2014
SEEING 9/11 LIVE
A quarter before11pm on Guam, on September 11, 2001, I was driving back to the Friary on Guam's lonely, quiet roads for that time of night.
My cell phone rang and when I answered it was a priest friend of mine.
"Have you heard the news?"
"One of the Twin Towers in New York is on fire."
"Come watch. It's live on CNN."
"Okay. Be there in a minute."
Guam is rather small so it didn't take me long to drive to this priest's rectory, where he lived all alone. He ushered me in and I sat in front of the TV. This was now a little after 11PM . CNN was already filming live the North Tower billowing in gray smoke. I don't remember when someone on CNN finally said a plane crashed into it.
I remember thinking, maybe they can somehow put the fire out, big as it was, and save lives. That was my silent prayer as the priest and I kept looking at the live footage.
As we were talking, not looking at each other but our eyes glued to the screen, we were coming up with various explanations and means of rescue.
Then - before our eyes - we saw a plane fly into the second tower. My mouth dropped. I just couldn't believe it. Was this a movie? It's so hard to explain how incredible it all felt. One didn't trust what one was seeing.
It was only then that it first occurred to me that this was no accident. Arab terrorists were far from my mind, but I did think this was planned. Who, why...I didn't know.
It was impossible to be sleepy by then. We kept talking and listening to what scraps of information, and conjecture, were being reported.
Then wham! Another unbelievable sight! The one tower started to fall on itself, before our eyes. Neither of us could talk. In my mind, I just thought of all the lives lost. Massive numbers of people. My heart sank.
Then a half hour or so later, the other tower fell. It was too much to take in. I became numb. This all happened live and I saw it happen on the TV screen.
I didn't stay up much more than another half hour. I went to sleep, still overcome with disbelief. And the next morning the name of Osama bin Laden was already in the news.
It was a few days later that a relative said that Jean, my godmother, was working at the WTC, on a floor above the crash zone. She was presumed dead.
Several weeks later, we had a Capuchin event on Guam, our 100th Anniversary, as a matter of fact, and I felt awkward that friars from New York, where we are based, travelled to this occasion. It was hard to be joyful about our Centenary, when our friars from New York had to live through this.
The following month, in October, there was a friar event in New York, and I was expected to go. When I was in New York, a month after 9/11, the city was eerily quiet. It was still New York and still busy, but not like before. People were naturally more somber.