I ran to the top of Eagle Rock Reservation on Sunday with a group of other runners. Fleet Feet Montclair organized the event. When we reached the 9/11 Memorial up there, we all stopped. We looked at the skyline, forever changed. One of us remarked about the weather, and how it was so similar to that day eleven years ago. Clear, crisp, summer still holding on for life as autumn waited to take its turn. Then a plane flew overhead. Another eerie reminder.
I didn’t know anyone who died that day. I know people who knew people. That’s as far as my connection to the victims goes. But still, I mourn. I think about what happened that day and I still shake my head in disbelief. How cold that have happened? It’s still mind-boggling, even though we lived it. Thinking about it still evokes confusion, anxiety, sadness.
There was a time when we weren’t sure it was ok to laugh. When we did, it made us feel normal again, at least for a moment. The first time I truly laughed after 9/11 was shortly after the first time I cried.
I am a television news producer. During the marathon of wall-to-wall coverage of the biggest news event we’ll ever witness, sleep was hard to come by. Few of us wanted to take a break since the brave men and women at Ground Zero were not stopping their work either. After all, we were not providing a fraction of the service, making a fraction of the sacrifice, toiling through a fraction of the heartache they were.
Eventually, though, my time came. It was late Wednesday afternoon, September 12th, around 4:30. My executive producer took one look at me as I came out of the control room for a food break and said, “You need to sleep.” He gave me a key to one of the hotel rooms the station had reserved a block away, and ordered me to come back the next morning. (Yeah, right.)
I fought but relented. I went. I showered. I slept, for about an hour and a half. When I woke up, I had no idea where I was, what time it was, or what day it was. I had left the television on and some local political leaders were holding a news conference at Ground Zero.
As as I slowly crept into consciousness, still not knowing the date/time/place, the first thing to come into focus was who was speaking: Senator Chuck Schumer. He was speaking about the resiliency, the compassion, the endurance of the city, its people, the country.
And it finally hit me.
I was no longer racing to get into the city and into work, only to be thwarted at every entry by the fortress that had been made of it. I was no longer rushing to get to the control room, to get video edited and on the air, to get in the anchors’ ear to instruct them where we were going next. I was no longer focused on making sure my fiance was out of the city, and somewhere safe and accessable to a major highway if another attack hit.
I was alone, in my thoughts. With Chuck Schumer. (He wasn’t in my room. That would be newsworthy in and of itself.) He was on the television. And it was then I finally broke down and cried. Cried like you read about. Pounding fists and feet on the bed, screaming, kicking, coughing, choking. All thanks to Chuck Schumer, of all people.
I composed myself, wiped my face, put on a hat, and got dressed. I walked back to the station and into the newsroom. Without saying a word to anyone, I sat at my desk, and logged on to the computer. My executive producer immediately spotted me and asked, “What are you doing here?” It was 8pm. At that point, some friends of mine had gathered around my desk and had joined the conversation.
“I couldn’t fall back asleep,” I admitted, “… because… Chuck Schumer made me cry.”
And with that, the group of us started laughing. And the laughter turned into tears, and turned into laughter again. There was little time for us to mourn, to grieve, to absorb, through all we were doing, all we were trying to do. And the waves would hit us like this during these brief moments of social interaction.
Chuck Schumer. He made me cry. Finally seeing my future wife for the first time after the towers fell? No tears. Witnessing one of my anchors almost break down live on the air after she finally heard from her son who had been attending school right across from the World Trade Center? Nope. Watching the families of the victims pleading for help live on the air, and knowing we knew just as little as they did? No tears. But Chuck Schumer did. Senator, orator, heartbreaker.
You just never know when it’s going to hit you. We heal and remember. It’s ok to laugh, and it’s still ok to cry.
Justin is a husband, dad, and writer who also blogs at Daddy Knows Less.