Could there have been a more beautiful day?
When you ask people downtown that fateful morning, people like me, that's always the first recollection. I can recall the glint on those two towers being no different from any other gorgeous day. Never thought them magisterial. They were just there.
And then they weren't.
In between the glint and the gone came a world of pain and hurt and death that's still with us, except for those who have been born or were little children when those planes crashed into the North and South Towers and tore them down as sure as a thousand wrecking balls in supersonic motion.
Like pretty much everyone in the business I learned of the unfolding tragedy from watching my friend Mark Haines describing the events on CNBC, recalling that it was just no ordinary fire, no billowing smoke plume, and no accidental replication of the B-25 that hit another tall building uptown back in 1945. That tower was enshrouded by fog. This time, as crazy as it sounded, it had to be deliberate,
The second crash sealed that mystery. What happened then just still seems like science fiction. I was stuck in lockdown at 14 Wall and all I could think of was they would take our building down, too. That, or perhaps still one more plane would be headed our way. No one knew anything that morning. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
And then it happened, not once, but twice. I'd never heard a sound that loud, never will again. Then everything went black, not once, but twice, two terrorist-made eclipses of the sun. After a time the fire department let us out and I recall it snowing, snowing hard, accumulating one inch, two inches, and I looked down to see how it could snow on such a clear day.
I made out shredded pieces of research, mostly Dean Witter, an old brokerage house, a recommendation of a couple of tech stocks. But who else knew at the time what that snow contained. I knew enough later not to share them, too eerie, too awful.
I hitchhiked home, dazed by the day's events. Still wondering if they really happened.
What I remember next had more to do with the confusion than anything else. Somehow the enormity of the situation just didn't hit home. Almost immediately signs were everywhere, families looking for loved ones. It seemed inconceivable that unless you got out you died. There had to be survivors buried in the ruble or that had gotten out of that building who simply hadn't been accounted for.
We didn't yet know of the tales of heroism. Just the tales of horror. Only later did we learn of firefighters and police going up and everyone was trying to come down. Climbing stairs to certain death. Who would do that? Dedicated moms and dads and brothers and sisters who chose to die in an often vain hope to save people they didn't even know.
I would like to say we all know that was our Pearl Harbor in the Global War against Terror. But, sadly, it wasn't. I hesitate to think about how many of those who weren't born or were too young to know the difference understand what occurred a quarter mile away from me that day.
So I have a suggestion to the leaders of a country so sadly divided. We, my generation, all knew that December 7, 1941, was a day that will live in infamy. September 11, 2001, must also be remembered as infamous even of the war still plays out with no victory 20 years later. There's a way to do it. We have a museum dedicated to that day, right at Ground Zero, one so powerful and so poignant and so true that those who don't know better can see what life was like the minute before the mass murders and then after, with horrific details including a jumper room -- yes, a jumper room. I say whatever it takes to force the remembrance that I fear otherwise will be forgotten.
Twenty years later downtown is alive and well, some say better all things considered, with beautiful gleaming buildings and a thriving residential neighborhood. I say nonsense. Give me those nondescript white mountains, the ones that can glint let alone gleam, and all of the people in them and then and only then can there be an end to the sadness.