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Where were you on the 11th of September is a question I’m often asked when people realize I’m from New York. My answer, I was being blessed.

I still find it difficult to categorize myself as a survivor of the terrorist acts on that dreadful day three years ago. People lost their lives and others their loved ones. Not to mention the financial setbacks. By no means do I want to downplay these tragedies.

I was never in any real danger. I didn’t have to flee a burning building or run away from flying debris. So, how could I consider myself a survivor? Because I overcame the hate, outrage and distrust I suffered through the hands of the ignorant. I was able to keep out the bigotry pounding on the walls of my heart, begging for entry.

On September 10, 2001, I spent most of the day with a client and long-time friend at The World Trade Center and in his office across the street. We were discussing layouts for a project that I had been planning. Morning turned into early afternoon, so we had lunch in the area and then checked out possible sites for the assignment. Before we knew it, evening was upon us. Our meeting had turned out to be a long and tiring session. By the end of it, we were both quite happy to call it a day.

We headed to the subway together, chatting about the weather and everything else, just small talking our way through the walk. All of a sudden, “Hey, wait a minute, Newt.” His nickname for me.

“What’s wrong,” I asked him, stopping dead in my tracks.

He pointed to the back of one of the Towers, and said, “I’ve got to get a picture of that.”

I looked up and saw exactly what he was gawking at. On that humid September evening, the sun had started to set behind the buildings in such a way that it cast an enormous shadow over the Tower. Hot cement under foot and no breeze to relieve the mugginess of the heat, I stood there, staring up at an impressive image. It could have easily passed for a piece of contemporary art, unique in design and abstract. Although the last of the sunrays were kissing the uppermost part of the building and dancing off of the windows, the structure still seemed dark, almost foreboding in a way, as if the Tower were frowning down upon us.

My companion was overjoyed at such a find. As I tried to seek shelter in the shade of a nearby lamppost, he set up his tripod and camera equipment with lightning speed and snapped the shot. “Newt, you’re not going to believe this,” he said, disappointed. “I’m out of film.” On the contrary, it was just like him to forget to reload. By the time he ran to the corner store to buy some, the moment would have been over. So, we just stood there for another minute and a half and watched as that special motif disappeared with the setting sun.

I consoled my friend with a pat on the shoulder and told him not to worry. He could take a great picture any time. He turned to look me dead in the eyes and said in all earnestness, “I’ll probably never see anything like that again.” Needless to say, I thought he was being a bit dramatic.

I’m not so superstitious to believe that this was a premonition of some kind, but less than 24 hours later the Towers were no longer standing. A big cloud of mayhem, shock, disbelief, smoke, debris, death and destruction had taken their places. With that cloud came an overwhelming sense of hate, outrage and distrust. If events had taken place one day earlier, I wouldn’t be here to write this story.

September 11, 2001 started out like any other day. I’d gotten up a bit early because my To Do list was full. The first thing on the agenda was to stop by the telephone company at Times Square to activate my US cell phone. I’d been living abroad for some time. Then, I had to run a few errands before taking the PATH train underneath WTC to see a client in New Jersey.

I got to the phone company around 8:20am or so and walked out about 20 minutes later. I zoomed into the neighboring drug store to pick up a few items. It was shortly before 9:00. I wanted to get down to WTC before 9:30, take care of some business and make it out to New Jersey by 10:30. I knew it would be a tight schedule, but doable. I had no idea about the events that were unfolding as I went on my merry little way.

In the drugstore, as I was walking down the aisle with the cosmetics and other tidbits, the loudspeaker was playing radio tunes in the background. The music was mellow and soothing, but I wasn’t really paying attention. Then, they interrupted the program to broadcast a breaking news bulletin. There was a lot of static, so I could barely make out the announcement. It confirmed that a 2nd plane had crashed into WTC. At that very moment, I must have looked puzzled. A 2nd plane? WTC? A passing customer said, “Now they know for sure it was terrorists.”

I remember standing there between the nail polishes and face creams thinking about how quickly time passes. I didn’t get any further than Times Square that morning. Traffic was blocked in both directions, and I got one of the last trains going back uptown.

On the way home, I was so preoccupied with recent events at first that I didn’t notice people on the train were different than usual. All around me, folks were whispering in raised voices. Some were so shaken they were crying silent tears. Strangers were comforting each other. A woman directly across from me could no longer hold back the emotion and openly burst into tears, mumbling something about body parts flying around and people jumping out of windows. “Bad news really travels fast,” I remember thinking.

Then, it hit me. The very train I was sitting on had just come from WTC or the vicinity. These people had experienced the disaster first hand. I now paid attention to their faces, and tried to take in as much as possible. Fear, shock, somberness, disbelief, anger. I saw it all. But the one question on all those faces and no doubt on everybody’s mind, why? Why did this have to happen? If I’d left the house one hour earlier, I probably wouldn’t be here to write this story.

In reality, we are all survivors. The only way to learn from the past is to study it!

This is dedicated to the victims of 9/11, their families, and the sufferers of the recent atrocities in Beslan, a city near the border of Chechenia in Russia as well as all victims of any act of violence. Regardless of nationality, religion or skin color, terrorism persecutes the innocent and singles out those responsible for retribution, more violence. Terrorism victimizes the human race. So, who benefits? If we don’t stop the violence, it’ll stop us.

Tami Newton is an international model, writer and spokesperson for cultural awareness between societies.

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Words To Ponder - Ezine

Created by: Jan Verhoeff

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