His name is John,* and you'll forgive me if I don't tell you his last name; I want to respect his privacy. Yet, his is a story worthy of telling; as it is a story of a simple man's journey through the events of September 11th.
He worked in the Twin Towers. That morning, like any other, he was walking into the building. Of course, this morning was different. As he headed for the front door, the first plane hit. He joined the people milling about in the plaza, and tried to decide what to do. As the flames leapt higher, some of the people trapped high above made the decision that jumping was preferable to being burned alive. John's instinct was to rush to help, but then he realized there was no help to be offered.
He stood there, among the throngs of New Yorkers, and watched as the Towers fell. In the aftermath, he - like so many others - was stunned and shocked, and didn't know what to do. Then came thoughts of his wife and infant daughter.
He tried to call, but the phones were down.
What could he do now; where could he go? He realized there was only one thing to do: go home. Yet, the trains weren't running, nor the buses - nothing. So, like so many others, he started walking. He was among the thousands seen walking across the bridges to leave Manhattan. He lived out in Hicksville, out on Long Island; so it was going to be along walk. He walked all day, stopping to rest along the way, and again trying the phone.
At home, his wife Jane* - like so many of us - watched the highlights on the news. But, unlike us, she wondered: was she a widow, and her daughter fatherless? She could not find out. As night fell, the stress became too much for her. She went to stay with her mother, and left a message on her answering machine to that effect.
John, he slept along the side of the road.
We, down in Florida, wondered what was happening with them. In the morning, my wife Jo called Jane to offer some words of comfort, and got the answering machine. Her heart sank, sure that John was gone, and she hung up without leaving a message. A few minutes later, thinking better of it, she called back, intent on telling Jane to call when she could. And, amazingly, someone answered!
It was John. He'd walked in as the phone rang, and grabbed it. He thought it might be Jane, as there was no sign of her. In her grief, she'd taken the baby, left, and not thought to leave any sort of note! He had no idea where his family was.
And so it was that Jo was able to tell John where to find them. He thanked her, hung up, and went to his wife and daughter.
Since then, he has not suffered physically from the trauma of that day, but the mental toll has been considerable. Like the nation, he has learned to take life one day at a time, and slowly put back together the shattered pieces of his mind and soul.
* Their names have been changed to protect their privacy