September 12, 2008

9/ years after

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.


Anonymous said...

i remember i was with james matti in his office along ayala ave- can't remember anymore why i was there but i was there.. at around quarter or about ten to 8pm we left the building and headed for a pub near blanco apartments nearby to catch up with our cousins (nicky matti, nikko yulo) and a few close friends (manny torrejon and ricky arnaldo i think was also there) having cocktails. i remember from where we sat, i was watching the tv set that was hanging from the ceiling and i thought it was some drunken fool or something (terrorists were the FARTHEST thing from my mind) who had crashed at WTC. puchang ina, then when another - and this time it was clearly a jetliner - run smack through various storeys high up the same building, the drunken negros macho conversation around the table froze and i just remembered exclaiming, "whaddafuck is that....!" james, meanwhile, had stood up and went near the bar where there was another tv set and he was watching the monitor intently. i walked up to where he was and as i stood close by his side, he said.." i just spoke to those guys up there." and right before our very eyes, the topmost floors of WTC crumbled in a cloud of dust.. and I could still remember the awful look in James' face as he said, his voice trembling, "...and now, they're all gone.. everyone's gone.. no one could have possibly survived that..." James, at that time, was head of ayala aon (partnership between ayala and aon, based in chicago, which is one of the world's biggest risk management companies.. its new york offices consists of two floors at the WTC - the very same floors which were among those that collapsed during 9/11. among the things James did then, 1st thing in the morning when he got to his office was he puts a call to the head of AON's new york office. before we left his ayala ave office, he was on the fone talking to the to the top guy in new york. as we drove the short distance from his ofc to the bar where our cousins and friends were, the two planes were fast on their way towards their target - and then they slammed against WTC, one after the other, .. and all of my cousin James Matti's colleagues in Aon New York perished - every single one of them, over 200 people.


Stella Arnaldo said...

Gads, I feel badly for James! Pls. give him my regards.

negrosboy said...

i made an error in my comments.. what i meant to say was that, what James does before he leaves his office at Ayala Aon then (at around 7:30, 8 pm)is, he makes a call to the top guy in Aon, New York - because when its 730, 8pm here, its 730,8 AM in New York...James btw is no longer with Ayala Aon; he's moved on to head some other multinational firm here in Manila.../negrosboy