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9/11, 10 Years Later: Giving Life in the Midst of Death

A brother and sister, more than 1,000 miles apart, share a wordless bond during tragedy.

Everyone has a story about where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001.

I was in Indiana, and it was a most beautiful day outside that Tuesday morning. The sky was clear blue with occasional puffy white clouds and the summer temperatures were still around.

Approximately four hours after a hijacked plane crashed into a tower of the World Trade Center, my first son, my second child, was born. A whole decade has passed, and I still have a hard time putting into words the emotions I experienced that day.

My brother, Joel Weinberg, is an immensely talented writer. He was in New Mexico working at the Red Cross at the time and wrote down his story, and I’m sharing it here.

"Fielding phone calls from around the ancient peaks and valleys of Northern New Mexico, voices searing with intense anger, sadness and confusion. Many veterans are on the lines, participants in every major U.S. conflict from World War II up to Operation Desert Storm. What they all want to know is, what can they do? What can they give? Money? Blood?

"In the storage room of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, chapter of the American Red Cross, a television with poor reception is replaying the images of the towers burning and collapsing. On September 11, 2001, the United States of America is under attack. 'Nothing will ever be the same' is the haunted assertion circulating from every form of media. However, in the grand scheme, is not today just like any other day? Many lives will end. Many lives will begin.

"A notable difference today is my office tasks. Usually, they consist of tedious registrations for CPR classes and cataloging and depositing small donations. Now, the phone is ringing furiously, its shrill anguish signaling the angst, carrying astonished agony. I forget that I expect to receive a phone call that will undoubtedly bring good news.

"It is only hours after it happened. There is wild speculation about the casualty count. Reports keep coming of more airplanes crashing. What were the thoughts of the travelers on those planes as they saw their end approaching? For a long while after this day, my mind will stray toward phantom fantasies of being on one of the airplanes that is hurtling towards the inexorable chasm of oblivion.

"Where will they hit next? The White House? The Sears Tower, that glorious monstrosity in the city of my matriculation? The labs at Los Alamos? This allows for a brief moment of awkward levity, as I discuss the possibilities with Bert the Emergency Coordinator.

“'Most Americans don’t even know that New Mexico exists,' I say.
'Right,' drawls Bert. He tugs on his colossal silver belt buckle, and then smoothes out the edges of his graying mustache. The unspoken punch line: So why would shadowy demons from nowhere have the slightest idea about New Mexico?

"A grim chuckle, and back to the phones. Strangers grieving for friends and relatives. Guilt-ridden consciences pouring out the most intimate details of their darkest nights. It is beginning to be too much. I need a break. I am breaking. My heart is sweating, my head is pounding. I take another call, voice cracking.

“'Hi,' says the caller.

I know this voice. In a flash I see Wrigley Field, I hear the Beatles. I taste tomatoes and I taste raspberries. I think of the thirst for knowledge. I think of how much I have always wanted to please him, how many times I have let him down. The overwhelming inner symphony reaches a cathartic crescendo, then eases.

“'Your nephew was born,' my father says. 'He is healthy and he is beautiful.'”

Mitch Jurisch September 09, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Wow. I can't even begin to imagine the emotions you experienced that day. Thank you for sharing your brother's writing, and tell your son "Happy Birthday" from me!
Genevieve Vermeulen September 09, 2011 at 07:41 PM
omg you left a comment. I need a moment to recover. Thank you Mitch!
Mark Maley September 09, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Great column, Genevieve!
Craig September 10, 2011 at 02:44 PM
What a fantastic column! That is so very hard even today to put into words. The best I can say is that it was bitter sweet.
Genevieve Vermeulen September 11, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Thank you!

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