Saturday, September 14, 2013

In the Wake of 9/11

There are many hearts and souls I identify with that were directly and indirectly involved with 9/11.

The first responders, rushing towards and into buildings while everyone else was fighting to get out and away from them.

The onlookers, who watched in horror as they thought a plane had accidentally crashed into the first tower. And then knew it was war when the second plane hit.

My husband, who was 11 years old when the towers fell. 11. Who, on that day, could have ever even dreamed that we would still be fighting a war over it 8 years later when he joined the Marine Corps. Or that he would be sent to Afghanistan on his 20th birthday.

But mostly, I identify with some of the most unsung heroes of that day. The 911 operators. The emergency dispatchers.

I know what it's like to be stuck in a room miles away from events that are shaking the rest of the city. Stuck in a room with no windows, dim lights, and computer screens. Feeling helpless, sometimes hopeless, yet determined to be the calm voice in the storm. I know what it's like to talk to family members who have found their loved ones after they have shot themselves. What it's like to have to ask them if they believe they are beyond help...or to immediately start giving CPR instructions, knowing that it's too late. I've heard the hysterical cries, the pleading, the agony dripping in every word they say. Knowing that you're the one who has to be the voice of reason. The one who has to talk them through the situation and down from whatever ledge they are prepared to jump from. And sometimes, the worst thing of all, is that there is no resolution. The police, fire, or EMS get there, and you're left with nothing but silence. And then it's onto the next call. It's up and it's down. And you have to learn how to still be the voice of reason, no matter how minute the situation may seem in comparison to the call you just took or the next one to come.

But I don't know what it was like to be a 911 dispatcher on 9/11. At the young age of 11, it wasn't my dream to be a 911 operator. I never ever considered that real human beings had to do that job. Nor did I understand just how tough and taxing it could be.

I can't imagine the things that those 911 operators had to hear that day. People trapped on the top floors of the building that were filling with smoke. Those who decided that jumping out of the window from 100 stories up seemed like a better option. Having to tell those people that "we're doing everything we can to get you help", knowing that time was precious and fading quickly. I can't imagine the horror that filled their headsets.

Maybe they knew how bad the situation was. Maybe it was worse than they imagined. But as the endless 911 calls continued to flood in, I have to believe that they, along with the first responders, are some of the few people that most deeply experienced the terror of that day. And I'm sure they are still haunted by the screams and the pleading voices of all of those souls who were trapped in the towers when they came down. Knowing that they were the last people to hear so many voices and that theirs was the last to be heard by so many hearts in their last moments.

I imagine they had TV's in their comm center. And I imagine they were turned on. And I imagine that they were tuned into the very same sight that we all remember like it was yesterday. I wonder if the world seemed to stop as they too watched the towers fall down. I wonder if they were still on the phone with people inside the towers and heard what sounded like a freight train coming through their headsets. I can imagine them catching their breaths as they lost contact with their Fire Fighters and Police Officers who were at ground zero. And I know their hearts sunk and their voices had to remain steady as they continued to call for a response that would never come.

I know 9/11 will never be forgotten. But next year, I ask you to remember the thin gold line that is the emergency dispatcher. The unseen, but mostly heard, calm voice in the dark night.

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