In Chicago, September 11, 2001 began as a beautiful crisp fall day—not a cloud in the sky. About 8:00 a.m. I entered the building at 221 N. LaSalle to start my usual day as a law clerk at Fishman Fishman & Saltzberg. It was also my third year of attending Chicago-Kent law school at night. There was a restaurant bar as you entered the building on the LaSalle street side and you could see a TV inside.
As usual, the TV was tuned to CNN. It was my routine to glance at the TV to see if there was any breaking news. That day I stopped. There was smoke coming out of an office tower in NYC and the ticker across the bottom of screen said officials initially suspect a “small” plane had hit the tower. As I was watching, a LARGE plane came streaking across the screen and slammed into the tower next door.
Like many others that day, the morning became surreal. Live feeds of desperate people jumping to their deaths to escape the smoke and flames, the towers coming down, United Flight 93 (Shanksville, PA), American Flight 77 (the Pentagon) and by Noon a completely deserted downtown Chicago as I took one of the last Metra trains back to my home in suburban LaGrange Park. Rarely were such events captured on live TV. Later that day, I thought back to another event I witnessed on live TV as a child—the day Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. I yelled to my mother in the kitchen who dismissed what I saw. It could not have happened because it was on TV—the technology limited and sanitized TV of the day.
In 2016 I followed my new girlfriend Penny to NYC, a city I was never excited about. I grew up in a small New York town called Warrensburg, about an hour north of Albany. NYC was a place my parents sometimes bemoaned as a drain on their Upstate tax money. But Penny traveled to NYC frequently because her company’s home office is across the street from where the twin towers once stood. She was determined to show me how wonderful the place could be.
I saw my first Broadway Show—the Carol King Musical Beautiful and we biked in Central Park. The street food—a Nathan’s Hot Dog and a New York Pizza Slice are a must do–even if you are from Chicago. While Penny worked during the day, I wandered lower Manhattan. I saw the state and federal courthouses (they were filming an episode of Law and Order), the Statute of Liberty, Rockefeller Plaza, St. Patrick’s Cathedral—I tried to cram in so much because we were only there for a few days.
But nothing had prepared me for what I felt I must to do someday—visit the 9/11 Memorial. It was a driving force that otherwise may have never resulted in an intentional trip to NYC. The memorial was beautiful, solemn and unexpectedly emotional for me. I walked by all of the names, some with short-stemmed flowers standing in the letters as I tried to imagine the fear in their last moments and the grief of their families. I walked by Firehouse Ten next to Ground Zero—the very first of First Responders who died that day trying to save others in a cause they no doubt felt was greater than themselves. And then there is the 1776 beautiful feet of Freedom Tower—an inspiring experience of America rising from tragedy.
Whether or not 9/11 was a defining moment in your life, check out the links here. Visit this place. Pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial. It is quintessential America.