WHERE were you when two planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001?
I was in the office, at Manila Standard, past 9 pm, advancing a special page so I wouldn't have to rush about the next day trying to beat the paper's deadline for the page to go to the printers. As is the usual in most newspaper offices, the TV was switched on, and stuck on CNN.
While buried nose deep in the stories I was editing, I heard a commotion in front of the TV set with most of our late-night staff chattering loudly about. "Ma'am me nag-crash na eroplano sa World Trade Center (Ma'am an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center)," was the response of one of the staff, when I asked what was happening.
So I approached the group and watched as black smoke was spiralling from one of the Twin Towers, a familiar landmark in New York. (It annoyed me some months after that when I had visited New York, I didn't even bother to tour the World Trade Center, as I wasn't much of a fan of skyscrapers really. I was more engrossed in the museums, Barnes & Noble, and watching plays on Broadway.)
Then CNN replayed the video of what looked like small plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. I swear, my nape and arms got all clammy as a single thought popped into my head, "terrorists." I don't know what it was that made me immediately think it, because there have been accidents in the past of small-seater planes crashing into buildings. But maybe because it was New York City, and it was a beautiful sunny day, with the grey-colored Twin Towers standing tall in contrast against the azure sky. It could have been just another lovely day in the city, but cynic that I am, I just knew it couldn't be that perfect.
Soon after, as I continued monitoring CNN, another plane crashed into the other building. It looked like a jet. My hairs just stood on end, as I watched in horror like the other staff. This was real. It confirmed my notion that this was a terrorist attack. I immediately conferred with our night editor to remat the front page of next day's paper. Then our publisher and editor-in-chief came rushing in a few minutes after to oversee the paper's revision. It was back to business for us. As the night wore on, news about similar plane crashes came in, one in Pennsylvania, another at the Pentagon. We gathered all the wire stories and photos on the crashes. It was going to be a long night for us at the office.
When I finally got home, still fully wired from what had just happened, I switched on the TV set and tuned in to CNN. I just sat on my bed, transfixed at the images of the buildings, billowing smoke, and people falling out the windows. Not long after, the Twin Towers just collapsed like a house of cards. And I just sobbed in frustration, anger, and sadness. I prayed for those who died from the attacks, and beseeched the Lord's protection on those of us still living.
Seven years after, as I look back at the photos and watch the special news reports reflecting on that dreadful day, there is still a catch in my throat. More than 2,900 people died that day, most of the victims' bodies were never found. These tragedies may not have happened here in the Philippines, but we have all been affected by those terrorist acts. Our lives, habits, and customs changed almost instantly after that fateful day. We are reminded of 9/11 every time we go to the mall, ride the rail, or travel by plane, arrive in another foreign land.
Despite the heightened security during these dangerous times we're in, we are still here, soldiering on, and moving forward. That takes courage. And I am thankful that despite 9/11, we have not lost our nerve for living.