‘Surviving 9/11’: FT Readers share their thoughts
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Most people above a certain age remember where they were when the events of 9/11 unfolded. Twenty years on from the attacks and people still want to talk about their experiences, share stories and reflect on how their lives have changed.
So when Brendan Greeley, a Financial Times contributing editor, wrote about September 11 he knew it would attract a lot of comments from readers. But even he was surprised by the outpouring of support and advice from people.
His piece, “I am still captive’: surviving 9/11” resonated with many people, some of whom had their own stories to tell and who have also felt overwhelmed by guilt at being alive.
Some readers encouraged 9/11 survivors to “try to find a way to live”, while others wrote about the importance of giving yourself “permission to not be OK”.
Here, we have published a range of those comments below and invite you to continue the conversation in the comment section below.
98th floor of the South Tower
Thank you so much for this. I worked on the 98th floor of the South Tower and your story is much like mine except that I was just ahead of the dust cloud getting out.
The part that went differently was my mental breakdown. I was 24 at the time and got back to work rebuilding our company like it was a religious mission.
I was told I had PTSD six months after the events but ignored it, moved on with my life, had a successful career, married and had children. Everything looked perfect for many years. But I hit a point where just too many things in my personal and professional life exceeded my stress tolerances simultaneously, and my body just stopped co-operating. I remembered events from the day I hadn’t before. I wasn’t sleeping.
I went from someone who could deal with virtually everything to someone who could deal with virtually nothing, at a time when a lot of people depended on me. I admitted defeat, and other people — who had dug themselves out of a hole with help from others — helped me dig myself out.
And that is perhaps the best part of it for me. You really have to get to a vulnerable point to create the opportunity for others to be your hero.
I think your advice is sound. You’ll never really get over this. It’s much better than fooling yourself. — Josh Lindland
I was in midtown rather than ground zero when the towers fell and I still get emotionally triggered by 9/11 memories or anniversaries. Less so about the shock of the event itself (as I was several miles removed from it, watching the inverse mushroom cloud of the tower collapse from a south facing skyscraper window).
Rather it is the memories of walking through the destruction, and the smell and sights (flowers, pictures) of downtown on the way to meetings several times a week afterwards, and of course all of the grief. There were multiple funerals going on down fifth avenue from St. Patricks, every day for months.
I remember the surviving firefighters and policemen congregating in coffee shops and bars afterwards; the sound of bagpipes; commuters sobbing on the train as they read the NY Times “profiles in courage” on their way to work every day, for months; a co-worker who lost two brothers; the funeral of an acquaintance, where their eight year old son, handed a folded American flag screams “I don’t want this — I just want my Daddy. I’m never going to see my Daddy again”. Absolutely shattering.
Experiencing the grief of others on such a scale made me feel powerless on the one hand and extremely angry/vengeful on the other. I understand more about blood feuds and cycles of revenge now than I ever wanted to.— Legal Tender
An absolute nightmare
I was in my office in midtown when it happened. We couldn’t see anything because we were too far away from downtown but listened to the radio.
Calling was almost impossible because the lines were jammed. Then they shut down the subways and commuter trains in case there were terrorists on the ground planning more trouble so we couldn’t get home.
Finally it was decided to run the subways and trains so people could get home. After about a hundred tries on the phone I got through to my wife to tell her I was fine and then reached my parents in California. My mother had been crying all morning worried about me.
I left the office about 2pm for Grand Central and smelled the odour of downtown and ash. The trains were simply heading north as soon as they filled up — no keeping to schedules — and lots of passengers were covered in white ash. An absolute nightmare, and I was nowhere near the towers. — Alex Kent
A hierarchy of grief
That’s how I feel . . . especially this time of year. I didn’t die. I wasn’t in the towers. I didn’t have to run like you did. I was eight blocks away. But yet . . . it completely altered the course of my life.
And despite the brave proclamations my friends and I make to each other at precisely 8:46 every anniversary, we’re never going to get over it.
I think winning isn’t putting that day in a box and walking away. It’s taking the jumble of emotions and using them to help others. That is how you triumph over the evil of that day. And that is exactly what you’ve done with your article. Thank you. — Kristina
Two friends escaped 9/11
One worked in the World Trade Center but thought that it was such a beautiful morning she played hookey. Afterwards, she never worked in finance again.
Another missed Flight 11, temporarily angry at being inconvenienced. His perspective on first world problems of inconvenience totally changed.
Brendan, you too escaped. And we are all the better for it. — Wenren
It never gets easier
Very powerful. It made me cry. I lost a friend who was in the north tower. It never gets any easier, does it. — LondonLady2
Triggered to tears
I can relate. I was in Manhattan that day and while I didn’t have the post trauma that you experienced there are many aspects that still haunt me. Watching any TV footage from the day is a trigger to tears every time. — Ben Bolton
New shape of life
Indeed you never forget, you never ‘move on’. You carry it with you, you come to terms with the new shape of your life, the new person you’ve become. You will always find yourself crying. Thank heavens, this applies to good things as well as bad. — Ravenswood
This story moved me more than I can say. Extraordinary writing! I hope that Brendan Greely will eventually find peace. — Oldschool
Thanks for sharing, Brendan — I was two blocks away from you on Wall St so your story has special meaning. Best wishes to you and your family — Dermotfinch
Treat terrorism as a tragedy
Maybe we should treat terrorism as a tragedy (like a car crash or a mugging) and not like a catastrophe, with political or theatrical meaning. Have the police deal with it as an evil but senseless act that should be punished (and maybe prevented via intelligence work) but not treated like all our societies need to change for it.
As an individual caught in it will never be forgettable, but as a society we should not be traumatised. We can accompany and respect victims without wasting our souls waging « war » on evil attention seekers. -Jerome a Paris
Mental hold on me
Can’t believe it’s been almost 20 years since that day.
I wasn’t even there but it had a bit of a mental hold on me for years — I mean, the fear of terrorism. I’m embarrassed to admit that and I never have until now, because it could give the impression that the idiots somehow “won”. — globetrekker
Probably the best and most sincere thing I ever read about 9/11. Thank you. — 123 Beer St
Learn to live with it
The problem is that you can’t let it consume you, but you also can’t ever completely move on. You have to learn how to live somewhere there in the middle. — Brendan Greeley
*Comments have been edited for length and style