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A day that changed my life, and many others

POSTED: September 11, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Ten years ago, I was newly unemployed. I had promised myself that while I had a severance package, I wanted to do something that was worthwhile and redeeming.

I thought that might mean painting walls at an orphanage. The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, changed all of that.

That Tuesday morning was the day I had decided to get out of the house and do something. A news flash just before 9 a.m. kept me glued to the TV set for the rest of the day.

I watched in horror as the towers of the World Trade Center were struck by aircraft and subsequently fell to the ground. Just a few months earlier, I had been there with my 79-year-old uncle on his first trip to New York. He still treasures a picture I made of him with those gleaming towers in the background.

By Thursday, I had learned of a need for help and was on an airplane just as air travel was slowly resuming. There were only 17 passengers on our plane bound for LaGuardia Airport. I can remember how we collectively gasped when we flew over the southern tip of Manhattan and saw the smoldering ruins below us.

The ensuing weeks in New York changed my life forever. I took applications from victims of the tragedy, both those who had worked in the building and somehow survived, as well as those who had family members who perished.

For a time, we were all united in our resolve to see our country through this difficult time. New Yorkers, normally a rather icy bunch, were talking and making eye contact on the street.

I hoped it would last, but it faded. New Yorkers became New Yorkers again and the rest of the world seemed to forget about the terrorist attack on our country.

Oh, there were reminders, like having to take your shoes off to get through security for boarding a commercial airliner.

We were cautioned not to get involved with those we were assisting because of the volume of people affected.

But I think of the little boy of 4 who was fidgeting around my cubicle as his mom completed the assistance application. His father was in tower one.

"Are you going to help me find my daddy?" he asked me. His words still cut through me like a knife. He is now 14 and I wonder what the past 10 fatherless years have done to him.

I think of the retired priest who lived in lower Manhattan and had an avalanche of ash fall into his apartment. I met him at a Rotary Club meeting a couple of years after the attack and he was still having trouble sleeping.

There is the woman who discovered she had forgotten to put on her work shoes and went back to her basement locker. Her co-worker went on to the 98th floor of tower one and became one of the 2,819 people who died that day.

I don't know that I would want to become involved in their lives, but I secretly wish that I could have a brief glimpse into their respective lives. They were the real victims of this senseless act of terrorism and I sincerely hope they have recovered in some way.

I hope that today as you pause and remember that fateful day, you will remember these and others whose lives were changed forever.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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