Remembrance by
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Not going to bother about photos. Never intended to address this prompt. Until today, Saturday September 11, 2021.

Never intended to address this prompt. Until today, Saturday September 11, 2021.

I went about my business upon rising today. Aware of the date, of course, but there was coffee to brew and the digital NYT to read. Shaved, showered, dressed and went out to feed the koi. Looking up at the almost surrealistically clear blue sky I was frozen for an instant. It looked just like it did That Day. Tears flowed. Unabated. At length. Thinking of. Then.

I was the CEO of an investment management company in Chicago. Big wig. Corner office and all. During my longish train commute that morning. I had noted the heightened clarity of the skies. Now, with my coffee at hand at my desk on the 36th floor I was awestruck by the sight looking east over Lake Michigan. An aside: Our offices were in The Loop. The essential downtown center. Just west of Grant Park, immediately west of Michigan Avenue, part of the phalanx of high-rise office buildings guarding the city. My computer table faced east, overlooking the park and the lake. Behind me a small television, muted, was tuned to CNBC so I could follow the activity in the futures markets before the open. I turned from my computer screen periodically to see what’s what. And then. The image of the North Tower. Jagged cut. Billowing smoke. Anchorman intoning that it seems that a small plane had flown into the North Tower. The impact zone seemed way bigger to me. The screen cut to an aerial view, at a distance. I saw a plane banking into a turn, right to left, at an impossible angle. Disappearing behind the towers then suddenly reemerging. As it hit the South Tower. It didn’t register instantaneously but I quickly realized that I had just watched dozens? Scores? Hundreds? Thousands? of people die. And that this was no accident.

Televisions are everywhere in our environment so the entire office, 125+ people, saw it, too. Consternation. Confusion. We stood in place, transfixed.  My fixed income manager rushed in to report that he had just liquidated his positions. ‘Ok”, I said, numbly. He disappeared before I thought, “Wait a minute, you’ve just locked in losses on zero information.”

Time, at least our notions of time, seemed distorted. This was Chicago. Central time zone. The first plane hit at 7:46, our time. Just short of an hour later the third plane hit the Pentagon. Alone in my office, I stood. Transfixed. This was not an isolated event. What, God help us, is next? I wandered into the trading desk area. A crowd of 20-30 people stood, slack-jawed, staring at the monitors positioned overhead. And we watched the first reports of the south tower collapse. I didn’t hesitate. “Everybody out,” I yelled. ‘Now!” I went to our communications center and broadcast it to the entire office, even more emphatically. I was not going to stand there and watch a jumbo jet emerge over the lake headed toward our building.

The memory is still vivid. Way too vivid.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Tom, I am so glad you wrote this. Horrifying memories, yes, but important not to forget. You were on the 36th floor of a building in an urban center; the next plane could have been coming for you. Good that you ordered everybody out. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    • Thanks Suzy. The memories remain razor sharp and not particularly pleasant. The weekend was difficult. One detail I did not add in the original that was a big part of my apprehension about what might come our way from over the lake. Chicago has an Air and Water show each August that’s a big deal. Multiple aircraft flying over and in the vicinity of Grant Park. At least that was the locus back in the day. This year’s show apparently included the Blue Angels. Aircraft have special clearance to fly at relatively low altitudes. The shows are held on Saturdays; I never attended. But the Friday preceding is rehearsal day, and I saw that each year, including 2001. Thing is,from the 36th floor “relatively” low altitude becomes low altitude. Barnstormers actually flew just below eye level. I think on 9/11 I conflated my recollection of the rehearsals with the events in real time.

  2. Way too vivid indeed Tom for us all, wherever we were that awful day.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    A chilling, remarkable, indelible remembrance, Tom. Thank you for putting it down and sharing it with us, as many others did the first time the prompt came up, and yesterday.

    It was a similarly gorgeous day here on the east coast. We ran into friends at dinner who also commented. We are all still on Martha’s Vineyard, but they live one town west of us when not on-island and many of the lost souls came from their town. She is a former flight attendant for Eastern Airlines, so she is well-acquainted with what goes on during a flight. It was a terrifying morning for her in its own specific way. When we ran into them last night, her first words were, “Creepy today; it looked just like 20 years ago”. And indeed, the sky was just as perfectly blue, not a cloud in sight. The morning began cool, but it warmed up. As you said, the day did look just as it had 20 years ago. Many towns in Massachusetts commemorated their deceased citizens. It was a shattering day.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    My husband worked in the Loop and I called him to alert him to what had happened (he’s a shrink, so no tv in his office). I remember thinking it could also happen in Chicago or any other major city. It felt possible. This 20th anniversary year, with its blue sky, brought all of the trauma back.

  5. Marian says:

    As painful as it must have been for you to write this, Tom, I’m glad that you did. Your story adds a new dimension to the horror of that day, trying to figure out what to do at a time of utter disbelief. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Wow! Vivid indeed, Tom. And a reminder that, when all this was unfolding, we had no idea what would happpen next. My wife reminded me of the orders for all planes in the air to land ASAP. And yes, after the WTC in New York, why not hit a big trading center in Chicago? Good for you for getting everyone out. And so glad it turned out not to be necessary.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for sharing this vivid memory that brings back that day so sharply. I hope that recounting it helped unburden you of the trauma just a bit. Twenty years on, it still lives.

  8. Fear and confusion drove my imagination wild that morning, Tom. I gathered with family and friends at ground level, spread open a map of the Middle East, and began to analyze what must have/might have happened. It was our only defense against…what? I can now better imagine what it must have been like for you, high in another steel and glass tower half a continent away, and watching events unfold in lower Manhattan. Thanks for this, Tom.

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