I was at our home in Las Vegas, were we had resumed living that past July after four years trying to make a go of it with our family in Attica, New York. I rarely turn on the television in the morning, but did so that day and tuned on the Today Show. I watched the images of the towers burning although I am not sure if both had been hit by that time. I know that I watched with a detachment, not realizing the brevity of what I was seeing. As I listened to the newscasters reporting, it began to sink in that something very terrible was going wrong. I went and woke my husband up and together we watched as the horror unfolded before us.
The rest of the day and on into that week, a somber pall hung over us. But we were 3,000 miles away from the epicenter and could not know the depths of the tragedy, nor what our fellow humans were experiencing.
Last month during a visit to California I went to the Camarillo Library, one of my favorite places to go. They have a great bookstore and there I purchased September 11: An Oral History. The editor of the volume, Dean E. Murphy, compiled stories from survivors of the tragedy. The stories are told from the witness perspective: people who worked in the towers, the rescuers, and those that were near ground zero. It is a difficult book to read. I reserve the reading of it for mornings as I have my coffee, surrounded by a couple of my cats for company. As an oral historian myself I was naturally drawn to such a book, but I find reading the graphic details is hard to do; I can feel the fear, guilt, and sorrow reach me through the pages, but I am making myself read the book until the end. These brave survivors deserve to be heard.
There is a morbid curiosity in reading the tales: The man who says he was talking to the living dead, a woman who for all intents and purposes should not be alive, much less talking and shouting, "I'm not dead!" (Tormented by a Conversation with Death, pgs 149-155). This woman did not live. The woman who was standing amongst a crowd of people trying to get out of the building when one of the towers collapsed; when the air cleared she and only one other person was left standing (A Prayer to Die Quickly and Painlessly, pgs 10-15). The firefighters who cheated death more than once only to realize their colleagues did not, or the man who locked eyes with another, a jumper who took his life in his own hands.
I am only reading what these people have gone through; I cannot imagine what it is like to have those images, sounds, smells, and memories to haunt them for the rest of their lives. For no other reason than to honor them and those that perished, I will finish this book until the end.
To find out more and to be witness to the heroic stories of our fellow Americans who survivied to tell their experiences check out September 11 Digital Archive.