How can anyone forget? What were you doing on this day 15 years ago?
I was with my daughter, sitting in my bedroom after dinner, chatting about nothing in particular. My TV, on a bracket set up high on the wall, was on.
We watched not really paying attention. Suddenly we saw a plane ramming into a tall building. We thought it was part of a suspense movie. Sadly it was not.
When we realized what was happening, I was frightened. I remember crying and praying out loud. I thought for sure this would be the start of World War III.
I checked on all my children and grandchildren. I called my daughter-in-law who was at the airport, leaving that night on a concert tour. I begged her not to go. More than ever I wanted all my chicks under my wing.
But there was nothing anyone could do to change the grim reality. America was under attack; and with her the rest of the free world.
No one has ever felt safe again, not since 9/11.
For the past few days, unnerving reminders have been played and replayed on television. I saw “Voices from Inside the Towers,” a documentary with graphic footage and sonic records of 9/11. It took us deep into the towers on that fateful day. It was chilling, almost surreal.
We saw the tragedy up close through the eyes of terrified survivors and listened to the voices of men and women who never made it to safety; their frantic calls for help while trying to sound calm and reassuring in spite of the chaos that surrounded them. We heard them speak to the people they loved.
Their bereaved parents, spouses, children and close friends today remain visibly fragile when they recount the events of that beautiful September morning. They continue to grieve silently and shed tears for those who perished in the once-magnificent World Trade Center, a landmark in lower Manhattan.
That day, 3,000 calls to 911 were logged during the first 10 minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North tower.
One survivor talks about digging through the rubble, seeing a hand waving and two bright eyes looking at him through a hole in the wall, about how he groped in the dark and found the stairwell that took them to safety.
A woman EVP miraculously made her way out of the inferno. At once she saw her older brother, who came from across town to help find her and their younger sibling who unfortunately didn’t make it.
It was eerie to listen to messages from people within the burning towers. Their voices seemed calm and reassuring in spite of the terror and desperation they felt. These were their last moments. They spoke of love, of gratitude. We heard the last words of people who had gone to work as usual on that sunny Tuesday morning and now faced imminent death.
Family members and friends searched their hearts for words of comfort for a young man who was trapped under the debris and whose only lifeline to them was his cell phone.
No matter where you were or what you were doing that day, you were forever marked by the sight and sound of airplanes plowing into the buildings, of fire and billowing black smoke, sirens wailing and the anguished cries of people running for safety as one tower and then another crumbled to the ground. Unforgettable images.
Today, 15 years later, another splendid edifice has risen on the site of Ground Zero. Perhaps it will help assuage the sad memories of that infamous day. But the tragedy of 9/11 will never be forgotten. Nor should it ever be.
Life in these United States
Last week I was happy to reconnect with a couple of kababayan. We compared notes about life in America. And it brought back bittersweet memories.
Nita and Rod work hard. She takes care of her grandchildren while her daughter works a nine-to-five job. On weekends they do forwarding for Forex. We chatted while Rod taped and sealed my balikbayan box.
“We have a happy family. But it is hard to grow old here. Our hearts break when we see the elderly going out to buy groceries even in the winter. My neighbor across the street is in his 90s and still takes out the garbage. His children live several hours away. They hardly visit. He is alone. It is so sad.”
It may not happen soon, but yes, they will come home.
They asked me why I returned, and if I had any regrets.
Coming home was not a difficult choice. “Balik-buhay” for me was a no-brainer. My children were grown and home, as I once knew it, was a thing of the past.
I packed whatever I needed and gave the rest to Goodwill. I didn’t come home right away. I traveled for a couple of years; lived in many places and got my bearings as a single person.
My children didn’t ask how I was as often as they asked where I was. My official address was 2 Samsonites 1 Lucas, Wherever.
I have not regretted coming home. Not once. I am blessed. God is good.
It hurts to leave Atlanta. But I look forward to Las Vegas where I will hug a handsome young man I haven’t seen in five years. He is almost 10. Does he remember me?