Remembering 9/11

I had spent the weekend in Indiana at a Diamond trade show, representing Marvel Comics. I had stayed a day extra to visit with my sister and her family which meant I was flying out Monday night. Weather grounded the flight so I crashed at an airport hotel and was booked early the next morning.

We landed at LaGuardia around 9 a.m. and no sooner did we begin taxiing to the gate did everyone’s cell phone suddenly start ringing. All the phone messages were the same: “A plane hit the World Trade Center, call me and tell me you’re safe.”

I reassured Deb I was fine and grabbed my luggage and met the driver, ready to take me to Connecticut. He had the news on the radio and together we absorbed the horrifying events as they happened. From what I could tell, I was on one of the last, if not the last, planes allowed to land. We crossed the Whitestone Bridge just before the bridges were shut.

Crossing over the river, we both gawked, seeing the thick black plumes of smoke stain the sky. We listened as the second plane hit and then the Pentagon. Both driver and passenger sat listening in utter silence.

Deb, meanwhile, called the schools to get word to the kids that I was fine, since both knew I was in the air that morning.  In her haste, she dialed the wrong middle school and the staff there didn’t seem to grasp the urgency of reassuring a young boy that his father was safe. When she got the right school, she also got a far more appropriate response.

I got home and we hugged tightly for a while before turning out attention to the television, watching in horror as the first tower fell. She was scheduled to fly that afternoon to Chicago but clearly, no one was going anywhere.

When I got to Marvel the next morning, everyone was still stunned. A day or so later, the entire staff was stuffed into a conference room and we were treated to a pizza lunch – quite the rarity. CEO Peter Cuneo, who never spoke to the staff, did. He had been in the service and recognized war when he saw it. His words were forceful and calming at the same time and the staff felt unified.

Joe Quesada had by then already committed to a project of some sort. He was already figuring out the fastest he could assemble something and get it out. He and Bill Jemas, then the President, reached out to DC, hoping the national need trumped corporate rivalry. Together, the comics industry could salute the fallen and the heroes, generating revenue for charities and standing side by side. As was DC’s wont, such alacrity was not for them. They wanted a more considered approach and weren’t rushing. Marvel went flat out and got their book out within weeks. DC’s two volume effort, produced with Dark Horse Comics, followed months later, emblematic of the industry at the time.

9/11 changed everyone in ways great and small. I’m in a high school with students who barely remembered what happened and are now old enough to process it. Lit classes read pieces written during that time and about that while social studies classes poured through the tributes and memorials trying to get a sense of what it said about the nation at the time.

Clearly, no one will ever forget who was lost on those four flights, or who died savings lives. I am also hoping that people remember the resilience seen in how the nation fought back, unified, against a common threat. We’ve rebuilt and we’re more vigilant.

I’d like to think we’re all stronger having collectively endured this tragedy.

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