I’ve been on vacation from blogging for the past six weeks or so. Breaks are good, and necessary. I return on the eve of September 11th.
Hard to imagine that ten years has passed since that day that began so beautiful. I will never forget walking into the newsroom on that bright, crystal clear morning. Just off the elevator, I looked to the monitor on my left and saw the smoke pouring from the World Trade Center. The story had not even been on the air yet. Rick Williams, the executive producer (not the anchor) at Action News, was the only person I remember seeing in the room as I said, “Is the World Trade Center on fire?”
After that, it all seems a blur. The next thing I knew I was inside the control room waiting to figure out what was going on and what we might do. We were still in network programming as the second plane hit the tower. Those of us in the control room, like the rest of the world, could not believe our eyes, but at that moment it became clear we were under attack.
The situation became even more chaotic and confused after that. Phone calls to and from family and loved ones. Voices of those we love are needed in a time of panic. And in the newsroom, rumors of car bombs exploding in Washington preceded the next plane crashing into the Pentagon. Then the first tower fell. Disbelief.
Like so many that week, I worked endless hours covering this horrific attack. You go into auto-pilot mode in these situations because if you stop to really think about what just happened, you can’t do it. You live, breath and eat the story non-stop.
By Friday, I was exhausted, physically and mentally. But I remember that day almost as well as I remember Tuesday. I remember it because we had a report that they found someone alive in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Hope in the midst of horror. A rescuer went in front of the cameras convinced that someone had just been found. Just the idea that one person would have survived not only the collapse, but so long in the rubble lifts your fragile spirits. A short time later we learned no one was found alive. It broke my heart. All the emotion that I bottled up in the days that followed 9/11 flowed out of me. I just wept. People around me asked if I was okay. Our assistant news director asked if I needed to go home. I didn’t. I just needed to cry. It was not just sadness at that point. It was cruel. Fucking cruel. I wept not only in sadness but in anger.
I knew no one who died that day, but today I met someone who did. Almost ten years later, the mother and sister of Don DiFranco came to Channel 7. Don was an engineer at the station. He was working at the station’s transmitter site on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center North Tower that morning. He made one phone call – to the master control room of Eyewitness News headquarters to alert fellow engineers of a possible disruption in service.
I did not know Don, but his mother looked me directly in the eyes today as she talked to us about her son. Her eyes welled with tears as she talked about her son, saying that they try to focus on the joy that he brought to their lives and not on how he left them. It would drive you crazy to dwell on it, she said. I felt pain on September 11th, but not like those who lost loved ones. I cannot even begin to imagine myself in their shoes. I could see the pain in Ms. DiFranco’s eyes, but I could also see something else. I’ve been struggling to find the right word for it….
Don lives on in her heart and in the hearts of those who knew him and loved him, and so his spirit lives on and so she still feels his presence.
It was never so apparent to me as it was today that the life we lead impacts others long after we are gone.
Maybe the word is love.