SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
Published in the New Jersey Psychologist, Fall 2002, Volume 52, Number 4
September 11, 2001.
As my memories of the horrific events of that day dim a bit, much remains all too vivid. As I think back to that day and the weeks following, many haunting images come to mind.
At approximately 8:40 a.m. that beautiful summer-like Tuesday morning, on my way driving to a court in Jersey City, I happen to catch a glimpse of the Twin Towers.
The buildings stand majestic as always, reflecting sunlight and dominating the New York City skyline.
At a dizzying and yet numbing speed, this is what I then experience:
- A few minutes before 9:00 a.m., unaware of what had transpired across the river, I receive an urgent page from a patient.
My cell phone can get no signal. I use one of the court's phones, but I cannot reach the patient.
- Around 9:00 a.m., while waiting for all of the attorneys to arrive so that the trial can begin, I hear one of the attorneys present say, in a rather off-hand manner, that a plane has crashed into the World
Trade Center. We both think that a small plane must have accidentally glanced off the building.
- At 9:05 a.m., the last attorney on my case arrives, running and breathlessly telling everyone in the hall that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center.
I blurt out, without thinking or knowing, "Sounds like some kind of terrorist attack."
- My termination of parental rights case begins at 9:10 a.m.
All in the courtroom sense that something terrible is unfolding, but I find myself beginning my testimony, with the radio blaring from the judge's chambers through the open door. Aching to hear the clearly audible breaking news, I decide that I had better concentrate on listening to the attorney's questions and responding professionally.
- At approximately 9:30 a.m., a bailiff hastens into the courtroom and says something that no one initially comprehends.
In mid-sentence, I inquire, "Are you asking that we evacuate the courtroom?" He calmly replies in the affirmative.
- It is not until 9:50 a.m. or so that we all leave the courtroom.
The judge, the attorneys, and I get our schedules out and take at least fifteen minutes to reschedule this court date. In the meantime, some of us are listening to the urgent updates audible from inside the judge's chambers, and I am learning, and sharing with others, text information from the news channel on my pager, that one tower is falling to the ground, that there are more than two planes, that the Pentagon is hit, and that another plane is reportedly on its way to Washington, DC. We are all terrified as we share what we know.
- I am supposed to see patients in my Elizabeth office later that day, but I do not know if any routes, including the Pulaski Skyway, which is soon closed in this direction, are safe. I do not know
whether any patients will show up. I decide to make the half-hour trip.
- After failing to reach by telephone my son, who lives within walking distance of the World Trade Center, and who is employed by a law firm in Manhattan, I go to lunch and get my first visual glimpses of the
unspeakable tragedy on a large screen TV set in the cafeteria. No one in the room is speaking. All of us are in shock.
- After lunch, I finally reach my wife. She informs me that she has spoken to our son, and that he told her that he is OK. He will not be able to get back to his apartment for a few days, because of the dust
- All of my patients show up for their appointments. The tragedy in New York is discussed during all but one of my sessions.
- As I travel from the office to my home in West Orange, there are almost no other cars (on the Garden State Parkway and Route 280). This seems eerie.
- That evening, my personal healing begins, at a hastily called prayer service at my synagogue. The congregants learn, however, that the brother-in-law of one of our officers is missing.
- On Wednesday, September 12, although reluctant and very much in shock, I travel in the morning to Bonnie Brae, a residential facility, to evaluate two youths. I see patients as usual in my West Orange office
in the afternoon. I am contacted by Magellan, and I am asked to do debriefings the next day at two offices in Fairfield for employees who were working in New York City on 9/11.
- On September 13, I find that the debriefings are healing experiences for both the employees and myself, as we share our direct and indirect experiences regarding the tragedy.
- On September 16, I attend, with my wife and friends, the MetroWest Interfaith Rally at a local synagogue.
Later in the day, we attend a memorial service at Liberty State Park. Prayer, music, and community begin to make a difference in the healing process.
- On the evening of September 17, and on September 18 and 19, Rosh Hashanah is an extraordinary spiritual and healing experience for the community. On September 19, after services, my wife and I share our
first of many moments at the Eagle Rock Reservation area overlooking the New York City skyline. The area has already become a shrine, and the individuals assembled there speak in hushed tones as they look
towards Ground Zero.
- On October 7, I attend Meline Karakasian's NJPA Disaster Response Workshop. An educational and deeply emotional experience.
- On October 20, at the NJPA Fall Conference, I participate in Lew Gantwerk's early morning workshop. Seated in a circle, members share their personal experiences and feelings regarding 9/11.
The group discussion is enlightening and highly therapeutic.
- On November 18, I attend a crowded but hushed memorial service in my synagogue for the one relative of a congregant who had perished on September 11.
- On November 25, my wife and I visit our son at his Lower Manhattan apartment and get to view the search operation at Ground Zero. The crowds absorb this in virtual silence.
- On March 11, 2002, after participating in an NJPA Executive Board meeting, I drive to Eagle Rock Reservation to view the Towers of Light from the Ground Zero area. My first (terrifying) view is
literally that of an airplane seemingly crashing into one of the Towers of Light at almost precisely the height that the second plane did on 9/11. The Towers of Light are a source of strength and hope.
What I recall the most, besides the shock and terror on 9/11, were the multiple opportunities I had to begin to heal and help others heal. The process is, of course, ongoing and intense.
We are all grateful for the resilience, determination, and examples set by the survivors of 9/11.