Jessica Sieff: We are given a choice — every New York minutePublished 10:53pm Wednesday, September 8, 2010
As sort of a somber way to mark the anniversary, I usually have a regular ritual. I pull all of the newspapers and magazines I saved from the days that would be known as “after 9/11.” The days that followed the nightmare.
I pull the movies that were made afterward. Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” is the only one I’m able to watch more than once. Both “United 93” and HBO’s documentary live footage from that day are too brutal to watch again.
This year, I have yet to look back.
As a writer, I feel the pressure of finding a new angle. I can’t just keep writing over and over again how I remember where I was and what I felt that day in the greatest detail. How it literally changed me, as I can remember feeling the journalist in me knock on the inside of my heart, as one tragic story after another unfolded on television, asking to be let out and tell the stories that deserve to be told.
As a person, I think when it comes to some stories a new angle is needed every now and then as well.
So I began searching for stories — of survivors, of victims. There is an endless supply of them, understandably. But I wound up inside archived transcripts printed in the New York Times, accounts from survivors and loved ones of victims who were inside the Twin Towers on that indelible day.
I read through pages of them, most of them accounts from loved ones who received phone calls, text messages and e-mails from their friends, sons, husbands and wives just after terrorists flew planes into each of the towers. Most of them recounting how calm or aware their loved ones were, asking for 911 to be called, advising of smoke and fire or letting the one on the other end of the phone know they loved them.
Among all of those stories, however, there was one about a woman who had been instructed to evacuate her office once the first tower was hit. Shortly thereafter, on her way down a stairwell, she and those around her were told it was safe to go back up to her office.
According to the story, the woman said she thought for close to three minutes about whether or not she should go back up to her office and grab her purse. She’d leave again, naturally, but maybe, she thought, she had just enough time to get her purse.
She thought for three minutes and she chose to head down without it.
Her office was located just above where the second plane would eventually rip into that second tower. She survived.
In moments of life and death, so many of which occurred all at once some nine years ago, so many people were faced with choices. They chose to call the people they loved most, chose to lead others in times of fear and despair. Some of those choices were a matter of chance but they were still choices made. Others chose to stand vigil, others still to work tirelessly long after the buildings had ceased to anchor the skyline.
And of course, there were the lives lost without choice. Without reason.
We do not always get a choice in life. Sometimes it’s not up to us. Some choices belong to others and they choose wrong. They choose to hurt or to cause pain. And though it would be our choice to right the wrongs, to beat the bad guys, those are simply not our choices to make. Still, we are given a gift of choice. Every day. Every New York minute.
We can choose to love in purity and not ugliness. We can choose kindness and generosity over bitterness.
I could choose to go on and on but I don’t really have to.
Because this year, as we look back and mark the day that changed everything — it is important to remember there are instances in life in which we get no choice…
Which means the choices we do make are all the more important.
In loving and unforgettable memory…
Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at jes firstname.lastname@example.org.