It Could Have Been Me

Had my plans, or the jihadists’ plans, been altered just a bit, I could have been up on the WTC tower when it was struck and then fell. I would have been a tourist with my wife and infant daughter stopping in NYC on our way to visit my in-laws in Europe. We could have been part of the death roll. Had my parents rolled out of bed a few hours earlier to take our cousin on a more ambitious tour of Battery Park, they could have been on the death roll, crushed in a subway car passing under the site. I would have been getting a yearly invitation to come to NYC and mourn. How do those who actually get the invitations ever put their lives back together? I can’t imagine the yearly ritual of publicly ripping your emotional scabs off as the world watches.

I suspect that there are tens of thousands just like me. People who visited the area just a bit before or who had been planning to be there but for random chance, fortunate circumstance. Such things change you forever but nothing actually happened to you. Fate hands you the cruelest of brushback pitches and you don’t know what to do with it. It’s deadly chin music but not deadly for you. Do you step back from the batter’s box or crowd in even tighter, daring fate for a repeat? Neither attitude seems right. I claim no special insight or wisdom.

Year after year, people gear up for 9/11 memorials. They’re not for me. They shouldn’t be for me. But they could have been for me. And my heart is still unsettled every year around this time when I look at my older boy who might have been an orphan and my youngest who never would have been.

15 thoughts on “It Could Have Been Me”

  1. A guy on my street had a meeting at the WTC the previous day, and then the day of the attack. He was on the way over when it happened. He still has a pass for the WTC dated September 11, 2011. The meeting, I think, was at 10 a.m. It was starting late for some reason. Pure luck.

    This same guy was also in Berlin the day they started tearing the Wall down.

  2. Borrowed time. That’s how I heard people like that call it: “I live on borrowed time”.

    But it’s all pure superstition, I think. When you think it has been a pure chance, not only your being 5 seconds or days before in a spot where the building fell, but even your being born is a pure chance. Even your being born to that particular couple of people, or to that particular locale, or other endless links in a chain of your and/or your wife’s existence are pure chance – maybe then you’ll stop feeling uncomfortable of being in the wrong place at the right time.

    It means absolutely nothing.
    No divine intervention.

  3. I have a friend in PA who was supposed to be at a financial seminar that day. Maybe it was the same 10AM one.

    I wonder how many brushes with death I have had but for an Unseen Force – or simply luck, would have it.

    Before I got my pilots license years ago my solo was memorable for having taken me 2.5 hours to get back down. And stay down. That was an experience – learning about high crosswind landings.

    I am watching the French documentary on the WTC as I type this. To think every crash you hear on the video is a body falling – and think how bad it had to be up there to decide to jump. That is how the priest with the firefighters died, I believe. Hit by a falling body.

    The best book I read of that was 102 Minutes. You realized – like in most disasters – thinking outside the box could save you.

    I remember from the book about 100 people decided to go UP to reach the door to the roof – they had a chance to go down but they remembered the 1993 bombing and apparently a helicopter came to the roof for rescue.

    Only this time the door was locked and once they made the arduous climb discovered they couldn’t get to the roof.

    All the elevators were out because – to maximize space, all 4 shafts were placed in the center of the buildings. When the planes hit they knocked out the elevators. I think with older buildings the safety codes required an elevator at each corner.

    There were about 10 brave people who, despite having no elevators or stairwells, climbed down through the twisted wreckage to escape. I think – in both towers of all the people trapped above the wreckage only a handful got out.

    At the 2nd tower after the first plane hit a whole floor of some financial company was going to evacuate – and they were talked out of it by the building security.

    I think the lesson was to listen to your instinct.

  4. I communte into NYC from Long Island. Our train that morning was running a bit late, about 10 minutes. Apparently it was enough of a difference for some people on the train that they were just entering the WTC lobby, instead of sitting at their desks above, when all hell broke loose.

  5. Bill, you contradict yourself. Those people who listened to their instinct and ran to the roof instead of walking down 100 floors still did not save themselves.
    You might very well listen to your instincts, but be prepared to find a locked door on the way to freedom and life.

  6. My NJ neighbor was a sommelier (a job he adored and was hoping to move up from) at Windows on the World. He was off on 9/11 but was on his way in to pick up his check when the fates of his co-workers were sealed. Since then we’ve both moved away from our old apartments, but I ran into about 5 years after the attacks. He was still struggling with survivor’s guilt. He had given up his old career and was switching to (gasp in retrospect) real estate. He, always the happy and productive kind, had been in treatment for depression almost constantly since that day. I often think of him.

    On the other hand, the night of the attacks I was monitoring the grad student list I still belonged to. One of my classmate’s father was missing (eventually determined lost). Others in our small group were sending him information, sympathies and what they thought were commiserations of anger toward those who had perpetrated the attacks. His response was long, ranting, and pretty much shut down all discussion for a short while. He blamed the US; he sympathized with his father’s murderers. And then slowly the notes of agreement began to trickle in…then flow in. It was at that point I began to realize I probably wouldn’t finish my dissertation. I just couldn’t stomach that world view. It makes me sick even today when I think of it.

  7. Tatyana – when I mentioned “instincts” I meant veering from the “herd” mentality – but your point is taken. One’s instincts aren’t always right. And sometimes “the herd” is right (for a reason!) But I have found most of the time that “little voice” in ones head should be listened to – at least given some debate!

    The people working in (I think) Canter Fitzgerald – at first some wanted to vacate – that’s what their inner voices were saying – but then when told by “security” everything was “all right” returned to their desks and faced the second plane shortly after.

    As a scenario – remember that horrible attack in the Moscow theater? Could anyone thinking “outside the box” have gotten out? (I don’t know – I am wondering aloud).)

    The few passengers who rushed the hijackers on Flight 93 – did not live but undoubtedly saved the capitol or White House – they were thinking outside the box. Conventional wisdom would have been to rely on the previous hijacking experiences of the last 40 years and simply comply with the hijacker’s demands – and live (as they assured the passengers).

  8. At the 2nd tower after the first plane hit a whole floor of some financial company was going to evacuate – and they were talked out of it by the building security.

    Rick Rescorla, who was VP for security at Morgan-Stanley, told the Port Authority to “piss off” when they told him the employees should stay at their desks in Tower 2. He had been running fire drills every quarter for years because he was convinced the towers would be attacked by air after the failure of 1993. When he was hired by M-S in 1987, he surveyed the building for risks and tried to get the Port Authority to restrict access to the garage where the 1993 bomb was placed.

    Anyway, he got all 2700 employees out except for three high income traders who refused to leave. He went back into the building looking for stragglers, especially a woman in a wheelchair who had gotten out without his notice. He and two other security guards were lost when Tower 2 came down. His life is memorialized in Heart of a Soldier, the first half of which is about his career as a soldier in the British and US armies. A bit more about him. There is even an opera that has been written about him but it opened in San Francisco, not a very friendly environment for soldiers. The photo on the cover of Hal Moore’s book, “We Were Soldiers One and Young” is of Rick as a platoon leader. He saved another platoon in he battle of the Ia Drang Valley but his story was eliminated from the movie.

    Everyone has these moments when fate intervenes. I flew back from London on Pan Am 103 a week after the flight was downed by a bomb. I flew to California in college a month before another TWA flight collided with another airliner. Both of them were flying off course to show passengers the Grand Canyon. My flight did the same.

  9. Michael – thanks for reminding me about Rick – he was a true hero much of his life and I remember now 60 Minutes did a profile on him.

    On Pan Am 103 – I remember that plane because a few years before Lockerbie I flew on it from JFK to Nairobi – “Clipper Of The Seas”

    Got to talking with the flight attendants there and hey said among the industry they were known as “African Queens” (from the movie and the long voyage on the river) because of the very long flights involved (as I recall we crossed the Atlantic, stopped in Senegal, Liberia and Lagos Nigeria before hitting Nairobi – anyway the flight was a L O N G one – I have often wondered if any of those FAs were on that ill fated flight…

  10. Got to talking with the flight attendants there and hey said among the industry they were known as “African Queens”

    One of the guys who used to sail regularly with me in the 80s had a girl friend who came along on a few low key races. She was a very pretty TWA stewardess about 35. She flew the route from LA to Cairo, which I think stopped at New York. She told us that the stewardesses in north Africa were strongly advised to go shopping in groups of no less than three. A number had disappeared in the souks of north Africa, even Egypt. In James Clavell’s novel, “Whirlwind” which is about the 1979 Iran revolution, there is a scene in which an old sheik in an Iranian mountain palace has a TWA stewardess in his harem.

  11. An interesting thread. I don’t understand why anyone would have survivors guilt. In fact I have never heard of it. Then again I don’t personally know anyone involved with 911.

    I have had more than one close call in my auto, something we probably all have had a bunch of times. I am sure that being at a certain intersection a minute or two earlier one day would have caused me to get hit by a drunk driver. I just rode my bike in the Pyranees and on some of the descents there really is no margin for error. A pro bike rider just died in the Giro d’Italia. My day could come on the bike, as I have been close to being hit on that a bunch of times as well.

    I just don’t think about it. These things are really nothing I can control, and you gotta live. If you think about random chance and who got dealt what hand, you will drive yourself crazy.

  12. You are a nation of cowards. The fear you feel is of your own making. You are heavily armed just in case of an emergency and your world view is paranoid. You have murdered perhaps a million innocents in your massive overreaction to a criminal act.

    What is coming you richly deserve.

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