A Tragedy Worse Than 9/11 And a Tragic Response ,Too

I was just getting coffee at home in Connecticut on Sept. 11, 2001. Mom and I had gone up to Block Island, R.I., for a break with my twin sister.

Mom and I drove home after a three-day visit and woke to coffee and TV on 9/11. I knew, after many years living in New York City, that despite what anchors were saying, no small plane would make that large a hole in the twin towers. This was not a private plane: This was war.

The hours and days that followed were like Dunkirk or the Berlin airlift. Unlike today and COVID, we all pulled together. We worried about our neighbors, we looked in on the elderly, whose sons and daughters might not be alive.

For those of us who commuted into the city, we worried about those whose cars were still in the parking lots. I was one of those whose absence on the train platform had been noted and worried about — I had stayed home for a week to get my mom back home, but also because I was terrified of going into the city. Had all the horrors been done? Was the train safe to ride? Was it really necessary that I read copy for a radio spot for Jif or Pampers?

What happened back then — unlike these days of conspiracies and misinformation — was a genteel, kind pulling together. There was not a stop light that did not have firemen collecting money for families of the fallen, for the ones who would in the years to come fall prey to lung cancer, heart ailments, dementia — despite politicians who later questioned if first responders were really victims of the toxins unleashed on that burning pile or merely trying to make some sort of profit.

But it is the responsibility of those of us who lived within 50 miles of Ground Zero — those of us who called New York City our home for decades, those of us who still can recall the smell of plastic and bodies in the air, which lasted for weeks — to remind you that the greater good is served by caring for one another.

On Sept. 12, I helped my longest-held friend move her mother-in-law with dementia to a new home in progressive care, and I thank God for that effort that lifted me out of Sept. 11. Signe and I had a focus beyond ourselves.

Is it too much to ask that, in the midst of a pandemic — an attack on our country greater than the planes — that we pull together to save our children, our families and our elders? Is it really the time for horse worm pills and sloppy science?

My memory is not so short that I do not remember the stunning images of planes going into our buildings. Can you not see a virus killing well over 650,000 of our brothers and sisters, fathers, sons, mothers and daughters as a greater threat? Think of this virus as a plane and save our families. Stop the insanity.

How could we galvanize around planes, and yet now we fight with flight attendants?

Twenty years have passed and gone away. Do we really need to die to love again? If someone tells you that not loving your neighbor is the best way, beware. Be your brother’s keeper.

Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.

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