I headed downtown for work at The Buffalo Coffee Roastery, a gorgeous morning, blue sky, fluffy clouds, temperate late summer. At 7 o’clock, work was its usual busy. Around 9, a person came in, agitated, saying, “A plane flew into the World Trade Center.” My coworkers and I assumed this was like the Empire State Building crash, or another small-scale accident.
More customers came through talking about the WTC; by 10 folks are more rattled, sharing that the south tower collapsed. The cafe had “digital cable radio,” and I tuned into CNN by 10:30, with the north tower, too, reduced to wreckage.
We imagined the scene in Manhattan, I thought of my friends from college, my in-laws and the family they were visiting. The sun was still shining, but downtown Buffalo became eerily quiet. Second largest city in the state, home to the headquarters of financial giant HSBC Bank, proximity to Niagara Falls (whose hydroelectric facility provides electricity to NYC), law enforcement officials began to appear. I have never seen so many officers, from city police and county deputies, to federal agents like Border Control, and we closed the café by 2.
Arriving home, I finally saw the devastation, horror beyond comprehension. These were giant jets, the towers toppled, burning, smoke rising from the financial district, ashen faces of survivors fleeing. The WTC was a tangle of melted steel, a death trap for first responders, a scar on the psyche of all New Yorkers, and ultimately, all Americans.
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Twenty years later, my life is very different. Hundreds of miles from New York State, living in a tiny village in Wisconsin that couldn’t be more unlike New York City, with the destructive power of terrorism teaching us to remember the preciousness of life and work for peace.