The men on the train
A few weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I was returning by train from New York to Boston. I had led songs at prayer services and was emotionally drained. The train was packed; nobody wanted to fly yet. We were exhausted, but there were two men who were very loud and, I’m guessing, a little drunk. They made rude remarks about others. When I stood up, they made a loud fat joke. When the train came to a station, they’d rush out for a quick cigarette, waking up people in their path. I was not alone in hating these guys, and as I fumed I thought about what had happened a few weeks before. I decided I didn’t need more enemies.
So as the two men reboarded the train, I said to them, “They don’t give you much of a cigarette break.”
“No, they don’t.”
I asked, “What were you doing in New York?”
“We’re firefighters. We were helping out at Ground Zero.”
In that moment they went from being everyone’s enemies to everyone’s heroes. I realized that the difference between an enemy and a friend is you can talk to a friend. You don’t have to like them, but you can talk.
The writer is the artistic director of the Mystic Chorale.
Shielding the children
“Don’t you know we’re under attack?”
I thought the salesperson was crazy. When I drove with my children, ages 4 and 2, the car boomed Raffi, not NPR, so I was happily oblivious to the morning’s news until I asked about something I overheard about a fourth plane.
I hesitantly turned on the radio on the drive home, and my son picked up on the reporting.
“What happened?” he asked.
I told an incomplete truth. “Some bombs ruined buildings in New York City, and people are very sad.”
My husband, their dad, is an airline pilot who, thankfully, was home that day. Our children didn’t learn the full extent of the tragedy until middle school.
I shielded them on the day itself, but I felt the loss of their innocence crumble as the towers collapsed.
A church’s ‘Welcome’ sign
Such a brilliant blue sky on that Tuesday morning. From my church office window, where I served as secretary of Centenary United Methodist Church in Attleboro, I could hear the birds outside and the laughter of the children in day care downstairs. Our church sign was advertising our “Welcome Back” event after the summer months, and we were ready for business as usual.
The radio was on, and our associate pastor called out, “A plane hit one of the twin towers.” Our pastor called. He was watching the television at home. More grim, unreal, horrific, and impossible news kept flowing between sources.
Do I lock the church? Are we under attack? The children downstairs. My own daughters at college. My husband close by at work. What can I do? Is there anything anyone can do? My knees are like jelly, and yet I think on one thing as I shakily go change the letters on the church sign, visible to many on its corner in downtown Attleboro.
I took down the “welcome” and replaced it with words I felt somehow God must be feeling: Jesus wept.
The mail got out
Sept. 11, 2001, was a typical Tuesday morning at the combined Malden-Melrose Post Office branch, until one of my co-workers called out that a plane had hit the World Trade Center tower. We ran into the men’s “swing room,” where they took their breaks and, more important, where there was a television, to watch in disbelief. Then, under a clear blue sky, with fighter jets flying overhead, we loaded up our mail trucks to go about our “appointed rounds,” as the motto goes. The next day, after a moment of silence, we put American flags on our vehicles and did it all again. I am proud that we, the United States Postal Service, were able to deliver some sense of normalcy during those horrific days.
TV in her classroom
I was a language teacher in a MetroWest-area high school, and the academic year was less than a week old on Sept. 11, 2001. I did not know all my students’ names yet.
When my first class ended, a colleague appeared at my classroom door asking where my husband was. (He traveled often on business.)
“At home,” I said. “Why?”
He told me a plane originating from Boston had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Other colleagues with a prep period gathered to watch the horrific scenes broadcast live on the television in my empty classroom — second tower hit, buildings collapsing. Details from the Pentagon and Pennsylvania were sketchy. We did not know if whatever was happening was over when the bell rang signaling the next change of classes.
An administrator asked me to turn the TV off and await further instructions. I recalled the shock, a generation earlier, of learning in school that JFK had been assassinated.
On 9/11, I could not tell how scared my new students were about the little we knew so far. It was our job now as teachers to be there for them and to get through the day calmly and safely. Together, somehow, we did.
Linda L. Segal
The writer is a retired teacher.
Fallout shelter memories
I was a young teen during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. My parents built a fallout shelter and directed my sister and me to ignore what our school might tell us and instead head home if our country was attacked. The morning of 9/11, I was at the dentist when I learned the first tower was hit. As I proceeded from there to work, the second tower and then the Pentagon were struck by the hijacked planes. I told myself: “Mom said to go home.”
So, after swinging by my daughter’s school to ensure that all seemed calm and that it would be a safe place, I did head home. It is from there that I watched the horrors unfold over that long dark day in our history, when we were attacked on our own soil for the first time since Pearl Harbor.
Toward evening, I purchased an American flag and attached it to the front of my house. It was important to me that it be there when the sun came up. And as I drove to work the next day, I saw two women who seemed to be happily walking and chatting — such a contrast to how I felt but also a reassurance that we would go on.
Beth Duncan Ratner
Revisited journal entries
I have kept a journal for about 45 years, since the birth of our first son. Here are my (abridged) entries from Sept. 10 to 13, 2001:
9/10/01 Chicago flight today, from Manchester, N.H., better fare.
9/11/01 AM flight to St. Louis.
Beautiful Day. Early client meeting. As meeting closed, client host shared this news: “today a plane from Boston flew into one of the World Trade Center towers. Many flights canceled.” Headed to nearby hotel for more news . . . government buildings posted with armed National Guard troops. Watched the 2nd tower attacked live from St. Louis Hyatt bar . . . unreal, unimaginable . . . terrorists on our turf, originating in Boston! Rented car for drive back to Chicago . . . eerie, sad, angry, incredulous . . . O’Hare by 6:00 PM . . . shut down! Went for a 5-mile run to clear head . . . didn’t help.
9/12/01 Head home in rental car from Chicago. Another gorgeous day, tainted with deep sadness and realization that “things will never be the same again” lonely, heart-wrenching 650 mile drive to Olean, NY . . . visited local church, prayed, cried. What unfathomable horror and pain.
9/13/01 Last leg, pristine day . . . past NY farms and towns, where all seemed so normal, knowing it will never be normal again and my sadness deepens. Finally arrived home, 1,530 miles from my St. Louis start, beaten and empty. Prayer vigil tonight, on the village green, next to General Patton’s WWII tank.
Watching from Washington
In a terrifying juxtaposition, we watched the televised images of the World Trade Center in flames while, through the floor-to-ceiling windows of our offices on K Street in Washington, D.C., we could see the column of black smoke rising from the Pentagon. The call to evacuate our building came soon, and we were met outside by dozens of security personnel dressed in black with automatic weapons and no visible identification who directed us, in no uncertain terms, away from the blocks surrounding the White House.
My workmate Federico and I, not wanting to risk taking the Metro under the Potomac, joined the flow of humanity escaping D.C. for Virginia on foot. It was a beautiful day, and the river sparkled as we walked over Key Bridge with the Pentagon destruction visible in the distance. I remember saying to Fede, “Life in the US will never be the same after this.” But I really had no idea the extent of the change in store for our nation.
The scar lingers
What does 9/11 mean to me? It means this: The old adage “Time heals all wounds” simply is not true.