Holding on to Hope
The lesson I learned from living in NYC on 9/11 — a lesson I'll pass on to my children.
Ten years ago, Sept. 11, 2001, I didn’t have children; I was living in New York City managing an Off-Broadway Theatre.
It was my day off, and I was sleeping in.
I woke up to the sound of my best friend’s voice leaving a message on my answering machine: “An airplane flew into one of the twin towers. Gretchen, WAKE UP!”
I sprang out of bed not knowing if I was awake or if this was a dream. I remember the sound of my bare feet hitting the hardwood floor as I ran to my fire escape, where I had a clear view of the twin towers.
All I could see was smoke.
I grabbed my camera — the only thing I owned that would give me the ability to zoom in and really see what was happening. I poised the camera to my face and looked into the viewfinder. My finger automatically went to the shutter button, and I pressed my finger as another airplane flew directly into the second tower.
I inhaled, a gasp some would call it. My hands could no longer hold my camera. It bounced on the metal fire escape, and I watched as it fell four flights down. Life seemed to be in slow motion.
I’ve been asked by other parents, “What lesson will you tell your kids you learned from the experience of living in NYC during September 11?”
I’ll tell my children of how the streets were lined with images of “missing people.”
Every storefront, bus stop awning, telephone pole, lamppost, U.S. Postal box had 8.5-by-11-inch pieces of paper with smiling faces of people who had not returned from September 11.
Days went by.
The Armory, around the corner from where I worked, was used as the family assistance center. Family members would walk down the street and hand out fliers of their loved ones; people who we knew at this point were most likely dead.
Often throughout the day and night, we would see an ambulance drive down 23rd Street toward one of the makeshift morgues. When the sirens were blaring, people in all of the businesses ran outside, cheering and clapping, because we knew inside that ambulance was a survivor.
"They found someone alive!" we would shout as we ran out of the building.
The sound of the siren meant hope. Hope for one. And we cheered. We hugged strangers. Tears streamed down everyone’s faces -- men, women, old and young as we waved and jumped up and down. Everyone in that moment was holding on to hope.
I will tell my children that in the darkest moments of September 11, there was hope. That is the lesson I want them to learn from my experience.
When it feels as though life is taking a turn for the worse or not going the way you had planned … hold on to the hope that it will get better.