I was in my hospital's morning report when I got the first indications that something terrible had taken place. The administrator for the hospital came in to warn us that the hospital was switching into crisis mode; she said that there was a plane crash into one of the towers at the World Trade Center, but she didn't know any more than that. One of the other residents left the room, and a few minutes later, came back in crying hysterically. She had called her boyfriend, who works in the World Financial Center, and who told her that people were jumping out of the devastated tower right across the window from him. At that point, I decided to leave, get more information, and get in touch with everyone in my life that could be downtown.
At first, none of the major news websites were accessible. I was finally able to find a television, though, but watching the coverage, it really didn't register with me how serious things were. One thing I did think about was that my brother-in-law (my sister Rachel's husband) works on Wall Street, so I sent an email to his Blackberry pager to see if he was okay. It was his reply that got me to understand the magnitude of what was happening:
I am. Can't track down Rach. I've never been so
scared. PLEASE TELL ME You'VE SPOKEN WITH HER.
Then realized that I didn't know where, physically, my sister worked, and from the message, it clicked into focus that she was in as much danger as my brother-in-law was. I tried to call my father, and after a couple dozen "all circuits are busy" messages, I got through and learned that he had just heard from my sister she was fine. Relaying that message back to her husband via email, they were able to meet up and quickly retreat from southern Manhattan.
Then the towers collapsed. When the second tower fell, I realized how close I had come to losing two of the most important people in my life.
Later that day, I found out that my sister worked in 3 World Trade Center, and had actually watched the second plane hit the tower. Likewise, she saw people jumping to their death out of the building above her. Talking to her, I realized that my little world in New York revolves mostly around the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights, and because of that, the past few days have been less about personal loss, and more about a global sense of pain, fear, and sadness. For Rachel and her husband, the past few days have been full of personal, identifiable loss their list of coworkers, friends, and business associates who are missing keeps growing, and the stories that they have passed on are enough to make you curl up in the fetal position and never, ever come out.
When it seemed clear that my hospital wasn't going to see a whole lot from the disaster, I came home, wrapped my arms around my girlfriend, and hung on for dear life. Some may argue that the world didn't change a whole lot on September 11, 2001, but it's impossible to refute that my world changed.