On this day, I REMEMBER... and share my thoughts of 9/11 in 2001.
Dear loved ones,
Many thanks for your concern about my well-being. Physically, I'm fine, but mentally and emotionally I'm a little out of sorts. I've done a bit of an inventory to try and make sure all are well - at least in body. All the close-call testimonials from folks who would have or should have been at the World Trade Center that morning are blowing my mind, but it supports my theory that when it's your time, it really is your time. Unfortunately, it had to be the time of so many innocent people. But for those who missed it, there's got to be something more for you to do on this earth.
Also, I'm certain many of the journalists out there are beat down from fatigue and emotional drain. Hang in there.
I'm sure everyone has heard and experienced stories far worse than mine (I'm actually covering many of them), but I thought I'd take an opportunity to give you all a bitter-sweet (mostly bitter) taste of my experience this past week.
As I write this recollection, I'm now reliving (via tape) the heartache and horror of a woman and her kids who lost their husband and father, a World Trade Center (North Tower) worker from the 102nd floor. By all accounts, he perished in this disaster. I was dispatched to interview this grieving family Friday. I am now in a New York City-based editing suite producing the story that will air to the world on Tuesday. As she pushes the buttons that will turn this raw, gruesome story into a melodramatic mini-movie, my editor is in awe of what she sees on these raw tapes from my interviews with this grieving family - dreading the many hours ahead of us to complete this slightly sadistic (but necessary) task.
I tell her to imagine what it has been like for me since Wednesday - interviewing those who escaped the chaos or having to stalk family members of loved ones schlepping from emergency room to emergency room trying to find just a piece of their loved ones (this, so I could book these folks for a TV show), or crying with the firefighter Tyrone Johnson who in all of his macho splendor can't hold back the tears as he is the so-called lucky one who was not sliced in half by debris (like his fellow firefighters who he will be helping bury this week).
One story that really hit home was that of a young girl who - with her sister and another family member - did all she could to try and locate her cousin - a South Carolina native who is the only of her immediate family in New York City. This determined Queens-based cousin -- who gave my crew and me permission to follow her on this witch-hunt -- had committed to doing all she can on that day before she called her aunt down South to report the news - good, bad, or ugly. Who would do that for me if I were any closer to the death and destruction on Tuesday? These moments made me really long to be with my family.
On Thursday, I was asked to get as close to "ground zero" as possible and to have my crew try and get some shots of the debris. Aside from the asbestos concerns and my asthmatic history, I really didn't want to put myself in harm's way (not even on the heels of the major damage already being done). But I compromised and - with caution - proceeded. As my crew and I approached the borders of the scene via the Westside Highway and 14th Street, we were asked to stop around 16th street as another bomb threat (in the form of a green garbage bag) had to be investigated. I didn't know if this was a prelude to another bomb or what was behind the caution. A part of me wanted to turn around and leave altogether, but observing the fearlessness in many of New York City's volunteers and cheerleaders made me wait as I felt this crowd of support was worth chronicling for my story. And scared or not, if it was my time, it was my time. I stayed and talked with many of the rescue workers who were on standby for their assignment. And I also talked to the "Amen corner" - including this courageous 7-year-old little girl dressed in red, white, and blue, waving her patriotic art of construction paper, glitter, and stickers - one of which read: GOD BLESS AMERICA & THE ANGELS. The Angels were her interpretation of all the people who died in this horrific incident.
Amidst all of that craziness, I get three calls regarding this WHITNEY HOUSTON DIED FROM AN OVERDOSE OF DRUGS rumor, and I'm so trapped in trying to wrap my brain and emotion around this overwhelmingly large story, I can't even go there. I sent a prayer up to God to let WHITNEY 'rest in peace', and I moved on with trying to get the stories of the people who really had no choice. Of course, we'd find out later that the rumor - albeit believed by many - was just that, and WHITNEY was alive and well(?). At that point, I said "Well, Lord! I know you wouldn't put more on us than we could bear. But if that rumor had proven founded at that time, I don't know if we could have handled it.". I guess we would have, but my goodness.
To give you my proximity to the crime scene, I live in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey which is a 15 minute commute (if that) to New York City on an average day. Maybe 30 minutes to financial district where the World Trade Center's twin towers (and neighboring buildings) set. With bridges and tunnels closed on Tuesday, there was pretty much no getting to the city for me. A good thing. This, until word got out that a van of explosives were found at the George Washington Bridge - no 5 minutes from my home. All those fears and reports subsided over time on Tuesday night. Still, I had been charged to be on-call for these varied assignments on Wednesday morning. It took me about two hours to get into the city as I had to take a car service to the Hoboken PATH train to get in. Though the bridge had opened up (on both sides) by Wednesday, no New Jersey car service was trying to cross it and risk getting stuck in New York. Whether I had fears or not, I was contractually obligated to go. And I did. With tears pouring down my eyes (a stream that seems endless since Tuesday), I obliged my superiors and even reached a point where I felt like this whole experience was therapeutic for me. Clearly, I would have been driving myself crazy just sitting at home watching this stuff on TV (By the way, there was nothing to stop me from being in one of these airports given my travel. I just had New York City plans for Tuesday. That's about the only reason I was home.). And - at least - through the medium of TV, I felt like I was putting the human touch on such an unreal act. That night, I got stuck in the city as it was going to be a challenge to try and return home to Jersey - only to have to hit the pavement again on Thursday. Thank God my friends (and would-be client for a project that was scheduled and - of course cancelled - on Tuesday) were still in town. They opened their suite doors to me at the Hilton Times Square. Welcoming me with open arms (food, libations, and attitude adjustments), we had our own brand of "group therapy" which made us all feel better. No more safe (especially given the nearby evacuation of the Empire State Building and the electrical issue sparking smoke in our host hotel). But we all felt a little more comforted in each other's fears. Just the same, this Atlanta-based group hit the road on Thursday to get back to Georgia via a 12-to-15 hour drive.
I called myself de-sensitizing myself for Friday's assignment - the one I'm editing now. I knew I'd be talking to a family in grief. I knew that I'd been overwhelmed with emotion (and still) - so I'd cry my tear ducts dry en route to this central Jersey family. That way, when I start interviewing this mother and her 12 and 14 year-old kids, I wouldn't be remotely impacted as it has become a drain to be so emotionally impacted by these sad stories. I just didn't want to feel anymore. I put on Diana Ross' "Amazing Grace" which she recorded in 1992 with The Vienna Symphony. On a good day, this classically performed tune (moans to boot) might make me cry. Also, it was one of my late mom's favorites. Then, I balanced the rest of my programming with select tear-jerkers from Mary, Mary and Yolanda Adams. Top that off with the typical call that any journalist out there might get from their editor or producer - the one that pisses you off when they ask you to make sure these grieving people give "details" or when they say "the bosses really want this piece emotional" or when they say "i hope she cries" - and I was armored to get through this very difficult shoot. Needless to say, the kids killed my plan. They tried so hard to be strong for their mother because no teen is trying to go out like a "punk", but the oldest boy just couldn't hold back the tears as he spoke of his anger that he would never see his father again and that now he must take on the role of being the man of the house. Before we were done, the kids were handing me kleenex. Still, I can't even pretend to know their level of grief, though - having lost a parent to natural causes - there was an identification.
The old Negro adage goes: "My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.". Quite the contrary for me. "My feets is tired and my soul is scorned". I'm certain this Nation's soul is scorned. And all we can do right now is try to heel. The hardest part for me has been coming home at night - alone. That other cliche "I can do bad all by myself" clearly didn't account for this kind of a tragedy as there would be nothing better right now than having someone to hold or to hold me for comfort. In lieu, I'm spending a lot of time at "Houston's". Go figure. There's something safe, sound, and reliable about my favorite restaurant. I don't feel alone. I can count on the food. And a sip of one of its tasty cocktails takes the edge off. It's the next best thing I guess.
I have to say that I've been subconsciously paralyzed to pick up the phone to respond to the many calls that have come. I'm moved, touched, blessed, and appreciative for those calls, but am just paralyzed to pick up the phone to tell you "I'm fine". I don't know why. Through the therapy of this writing, I hope to hear all your voices and see all your faces some day soon.
Be clear! Nothing I or my colleagues have endured is even remotely comparable to the heartache the victims, their families, and the rescuers are suffering. But as I've been discussing with fellow journalists on the streets -- many of whom are shocked to see me - Mr. Entertainment - on the streets covering hard news [in Moshood no doubt], this is a story that is affecting us all and will continue to do that for years to come. It's a painful truth that we must get and try to move through.
My best wishes to you all. Please forward as I'm certain I'm gonna forget to send this to someone who is important to me.
Peace, Love, and Be Well...
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