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September 11, 2001


Unbelievably, it has been ten years, today, since the World Trade Towers were attacked.   I live and work ten blocks from the World Trade Center and, so, have been reminded of this tragic event often over the years.  I still look for and imagine the “twin towers” when walking south on Church Street.  For some time after 9/11, I even looked for them in other cities.  That Tuesday morning was the second day of the playgroup.  I was tidying up, vacuuming the space, when I heard something that I imagined to be a huge truck driving over metal plates on our street. Only much louder.  I turned off the vacuum cleaner and waited a few moments, then turned it back on.  A minute later one of the parents called and told me what had happened.  They lived only three or four blocks away and could see all the horror happening before their eyes.  They offered to take me with them to the country where they were headed.  My daughter, Sara, was apartment-sitting about five blocks north of where I live.  All I wanted to do was see her.  I tried over and over to call her, but there was no answer.  I knew she was alright and was probably just sleeping.  I went to the corner of Franklin and Church Streets after the north Tower was hit.  Along with half a dozen other people, I just stared up at the plane-shaped hole in the north Tower.  I turned to the person standing next to me and said:  “Where’s Bruce Willis?”  There were thousands of bird-shaped glimmering objects very slowly floating around and then down from that cavernous gash.  The city was so quiet and the sky so clear and blue.  After a few minutes I went back home because my assistant, Ildiko, was about to arrive.  She had taken the subway from uptown and came in very confused by all the commotion on the street.  When I told her what had happened she left to be with her sister and I walked up Church Street to see Sara.  There were many other people walking north, some covered with ash and shell-shocked.  Suddenly someone screamed: “The second building is falling!” and we all ran.  After a few seconds, I slowed down to a fast walk until I got to the building where Sara was staying.  After ringing the doorbell numerous times, she finally woke up and let me in.  We hugged and cried.

We went back to my apartment and I called the parents in both groups to see how they were.  After four days in the city, Sara and I went to my sister’s house in Massachusetts for five days.  I couldn’t sleep and hardly ate, which I found out later was post traumatic stress disorder.  Gratefully, it only lasted a few weeks.  The whole experience was surreal and monstrously sad.  Sara was much more philosophical about it than me.  I think it was she who gave everyone around her much strength.

My goal was to return to normal life as soon as possible, so the playgroup started up again around September 24th.  It became an oasis for all of us.  The kids were much too young to talk to about it, but we kept a close eye on them for any signs of stress.  I was very conscious of not reading anything into their behavior.  There was one two-year-old boy who started building structures with wooden blocks and then knocking them down, saying that they were on fire.  Naturally, I told the parents right away and they worked on being more conscious of what they said around him.  Eventually this disappeared from his play.  In most cases I believe it’s better to observe play, rather than trying to change it.  Children are very adept at picking up what we’re really saying and will adjust what they do or say.  Then we lose that window into what they’re actually feeling.  Paying attention to our own feelings of discomfort is key to understanding what we might be telling our children without words.

I wish everyone a wonderful year.

Published inSeptember 11

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