Condolences Opinions Intro

Readers from the metro region, the nation and the world responded via e-mail to the attacks Sept. 11 on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center. Reactions came by the thousands in the form of condolences, opinions and personal stories. Some of these are included in this archive. To share thoughts on ongoing developments, visit Live Online's national news message boards.

I got tired of being depressed -- I am an Arab-Muslim American, I have lived in this country for nearly 40 years and suddenly I was feeling foreign.

I love America and its ideals. So. I decided to do something constructive and useful. Since I own several restaurants in the Washington area -- I decided to donate 100 percent of the sales for Sept. 24. I am declaring it a day of solidarity with the people of New York and Washington D.C.

Andy Shallal
Washington, D.C.

On Friday I drove an American friend to the airport to fly home. It was A three-hour drive and he wanted to talk about nothing else other than how You get revenge.

What he could not figure out was how to hurt an enemy that embraced death with enthusiasm. I suggested you try to befriend them. "Novel idea," he said. "I will think about it on the plane."

Kim Murray
Western Australia

At 11:30 p.m., 12 hours after the explosion, the smell began to reach Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, nine miles away. It was a biting, nasty smell

My family didn't even realize what it was right away. Though I had spent all day glued to several sources of information, it somehow didn't cross my mind that we were in the path of the smoke. We live close to our neighbors, so there are often unusual cooking smells, some less pleasant than others, some based on acquired cultural tastes. I hope no one has yet acquired a taste for the smell of burning World Trade Centers.

We didn't have any ash, and if there were any toxic or biological chemicals in the mix, we may not know for while. Shortly after the smell started, my 11-year- old wheezed for the first time in four months.

My husband had been caught in in the transportation hub of Jamaica, Queens, my middle child was at Stuyvesant High School. Stuyvesant is a few very short blocks north of the World Trade Center; as I told my relatives when they called, the bridge the students use to walk over the west side highway to the school showed up on a lot of the television coverage. My oldest son was home, trying to relax on his first real vacation since he started taking extra classes in summer school to graduate from high school a year early. I was glad he was with me. My daughter was in Mark Twain Junior High, a few miles away from us.

Loud noises made me jump. The sounds of planes overhead - I was confused why we were hearing planes when the air space of the United States was shut down. Until I noticed the sounds were of supersonic military aircraft, patrolling.

I spent most of the afternoon wondering how to get my kids home and feeling helpless. I didn't want to leave the phone. Josh had been evacuated from school and sent on his way north, away from the falling buildings. I think the administration simply wanted to get all the kids as far away as possible -- some students had seen people jumping from the windows.

Joshua wasn't able to call us until he reached a new acquaintance's apartment, 2 1/2 miles north of his school , where someone's parent opened her home to several students she had never met, and told them they could stay as long as they needed to. Thank you, Abby. I still don't know her last name.

Officialdom announced elementary and intermediate students would be able to ride the yellow school buses home, if a parent or authorized person would pick them up at the bus stop. What was not made clear was that the students would only be released to the busses if the school knew in advance that someone would be at the stop. We couldn't get a call through to the school and the school never reached us.

After I waited a half hour at her bus stop, one of the other parents with a cell phone was able to contact Mark Twain and found out our kids were waiting there for us to pick them up. I sent my oldest son to get Diane. I needed to keep trying to find out when the trains would come to Brooklyn and get Josh home.

It took an hour for Diane and Dan to get home. My husband walked in just seconds later, and then we learned the subways were running out of Manhattan, not just within the borough. We called Josh and told him to take any train to Brooklyn he could. Even though we knew it would be a long time we kept watching the train platforms from our windows every time a train came to our stop. An hour later, a "W" train pulled in and out and we saw on the platform, my son. He saw us looking out the window. He waved and started to run home.

I felt small and petty. Other people had true tragedies, other people were rushing to help. My kid made it home safely. It was all I could care about right then.

Leah D. Casner
Brooklyn, N.Y.

My family went to the Pentagon the Friday after the attack. We wanted to participate in the candlelight vigil, and we wanted to try to comprehend what happened. It helped make it a little more real, but I still felt a trace of numbness.

I didn't start to cry until I watched Dan Rather cry on the David Letterman show on Monday, Sept. 17. My heart broke for good, and the tears still come occasionally. I guess that's part of war, though, isn't it?

Kendra Hendren
Castleton, Va.

A friend, Gerald "Geep" Fisher was killed in the Pentagon attack. My 6-year-old son saw his father cry for the first time. My son is aware of the events and what has happened this week. He knows I am deeply saddened and have not been myself.

This morning I found him playing with his Legos. He was building two towers and having them fall and break. He did this many times. I realize this is his way of dealing with the events. After I watched him for a few minutes we spoke again about the tragedy at a level he could understand. Then I responded to his request to help him rebuild his towers.

Aaron Schulman
Oak Hill, Va.

There are about 50 of us ex-pat Americans living here in the middle of the South Pacific, on Rarotonga (circumference 20 miles), the main island of the Cook Islands. We have about 10,000 US visitors every year -- out of 70,000 -- who enjoy our tropical beaches and lagoons, the relaxed pace of life, and the friendly locals who are pleased to help visitors. We usually don't get TV until 3 p.m.

However, at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, one of us received a phone call from friends in L.A. about the World Trade Center crashes. He called the TV station owner, still asleep at home. "George, can you get CNN or the BBC off the satellite?" George Pitt replied, "I'll be there in five minutes and call you." Elliot Smith, a retired judge from the U.S. and a long-time resident of the island, received a call five minutes later. "Judge, turn on your TV!" He did so, and the BBC live coverage was being spread across the little island, as a series of phone calls woke most ex-pats to let them know of the horror that had occurred, and that live coverage was on Cook Islands TV. From there it was right to the computers, checking e-mail.

Judge Smith, who had grown up in New York City and still has dozens of relatives there, learned over the next hour through 20 or 30 messages that all his family and friends were safe, though some workmates of some relatives had perished at the World Trade Center. A memorial service was held on Rarotonga at high noon Sept. 14, at a little hotel on the island. About 50 Americans, both those residing on the island and about a dozen tourists visiting the "little slice of paradise" prayed for the families of those that had perished, and were thankful that they had been spared grief from having any direct family or friends die. A wreath and flower memorial soon appeared on the main road in the little town of Avarua, with both locals and visitors dropping off dozens and dozens of flowers and hand-written messages to express their condolences. Even in paradise, there are days of sadness.

Judge Elliot Smith (retired)
Rarotonga, Cook Islands

How am I doing? Not great. I am immersing myself in work to shut out thoughts of the tragedy. Like today.

I was pleased with myself for finishing part of a project. Then, I mistakenly deleted the file. On Sunday, I went to a memorial service with friends and took them home. After that, I turned onto King Street -- on the wrong side of the median. When I got home, I was so tired. I got into bed and slept for four hours.

I didn't lose a loved one in this horror or personally know anyone who narrowly escaped. I didn't work at the Pentagon site or the World Trade Center. I wasn't an eyewitness. I am just another shaken, grieving person.

Candace (Nesbitt) Barrigar
Washington, D.C.

I am NOT normal.

Yet this morning, Monday -- six days after, the radio DJs are softly, reverently ringing in the beginning of a new workweek. And in doing so, they are commiserating with us on how difficult this morning is as we “get back to normal.” “We need to return to normal,” they say.


Do you mean the way some of us spent this summer scavenging for concert tickets to see a middle-aged woman in a bra strutting and singing across the stage? Is that the normal you’re referring to? Or do you mean the way some of us traded in our cars for newer, jazzier versions early this summer because, let’s face it, summer without a new convertible is torture? Or perhaps you mean something simple, like the way some us run around the house in the mornings looking for the perfect shoes to wear to work. Is that the normal you mean?


Tuesday began with a phone call from my sister, Patti, as she was reaching a business meeting in Connecticut. She told me that Howard Stern had just announced that an airplane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. My first question was not “How did this happen” because that would imply that I comprehended what she had said. Instead I asked, “Why are you listening to Howard Stern” since she did not normally do so. I then sat transfixed, as we all did, and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center as the morning show hosts were still trying to make sense of the first crash. I watched the tower fall, riveted by the sight of the 300-foot broadcast steeple folding into the mushroom cloud. When the planes crashed in Washington and Pennsylvania, my ability to absorb any new information shut down. I spent the remainder of the day alternately searching for family and friends in both New York and Washington, and helping my sister as she desperately tried to get back to her children in New Jersey.

On Wednesday, I moved from terror to shock. I traveled into New York from my safe suburban home to take care of some normal business, blithely removed from the real impact of what had happened. I was not unaffected…just not engaged. The first real emotional body blow occurred for me while I was standing on the corner of 6th Avenue and West 9th Street in Greenwich Village. Sixth Avenue is normally an extremely traffic-heavy boulevard. But on this Wednesday -- nothing. No delivery trucks, no cars, no honking, no brakes squealing. None of the normal sights or sounds. Just a rumble, distant at first, but then gaining in intensity. I stood on the corner with others watching as brimming dump trucks moved uptown. As the trucks passed us, a woman next to me let out this wail, a keening from deep within. I turned my body, pressed my face to the cool brick of the nearest building and wept.

This shock extended into Friday morning, where I turned reflective. I was just beginning to understand the sheer number of people impacted. The employees in these buildings for whom terror was fiercely present, but hopefully brief. The rescue workers who must pull their comrades from these buildings even as exhaustion, rage and grief overwhelm them. The volunteers who give time, money, blood and supplies to try to assuage their own grief. The families who will be reminded on Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years and endless birthdays and anniversaries that death actively stalked their family before taking its prey. The countless businesses, civic activities, school committees, recreation departments, and communities that will feel the ripple effect of missing members for days, months and years to come. The vomiting began around 10:00 am and continued until 3:00 pm, and I wondered why I was not feeling well.

A second emotional body blow struck me as I lit my candle at the Friday evening vigil along the waterfront park at the Hoboken pier. As I looked toward lower Manhattan, the counterpoint of remaining buildings, dark and obviously empty, against the rest of lighted city was striking. The Empire State Building, however, was not awash in light as it normally is. Protection? Similarly, the darkened downtown scene against the backdrop of the brown and white curling smoke where the towers stood was like a three-dimensional sculpture. It brought the flat-screened pictures of my television into real focus. I continued to reflect on the impact of this event. I kept seeing myself occupied by normal activities in the city: sitting in Washington Square Park watching a bocci game, grabbing a bite in cramped deli in SoHo, wandering through the World Trade Center complex and the World Financial Center on my way to visit a friend who lives in an apartment in Battery Park City. I sat on the stone steps of the waterfront park and considered my history with the city as klieg lights and emergency flashing lights provided the mood lighting for the weary workers as they continued to peel back layers of tragedy, serenaded by the fighter pilots circling above.

I filled the weekend with normal, mindless, useless activities to avoid the saturation of television coverage. Looking back, I cannot name a single thing I did.

And now it’s Monday. And I’m supposed to return to normal.

Well, I refuse. Here and now, I’m declaring war on normal. I am NOT normal. But I’ll you what else I’m not. I’m not a crusader. I’m not going to stand on street corners denouncing the devils, these fallen and depraved archangels who are wrapping themselves in the flag of some misguided religious or political ideology. While America the Beautiful is not the scourge of the planet as proclaimed by some cultures, we are also not a scrubbed-face innocent in the realm of global politics. I will leave the condemnations to others.

What I AM going to do is what I normally do not.

I will tell the people in my life that they matter and that they’ve made all the difference in my short and squandered life. I will put my affairs in order and commit my final wishes to paper so that those I leave behind will have one less task to deal with. I will make eye contact with other riders on the subway.

I will say “Good Morning” to every doorman I pass on my journey in the morning.

I will celebrate my potential as a writer, a teacher, a woman, a human being.

I will rejoice that I probably have 41 years ahead of me instead of lamenting that I have 41 years behind me.

I will invite friends on a real picnic with a basket of food, a deck of cards and a camera.

I will organize a get-together for my old high school friends for next summer, even if it’s an “off” year for a reunion.

I will go back to being my formerly goofy self, banishing the pensive, moody self that I’ve become.

I will blow bubbles with my nieces and nephews.

I will walk on grass in my bare feet.

And I’m going to like myself.

And I’m going to feel happy and blessed.

And for the record, I’ll be the one listening to old Carole King songs, driving an old beat-up Saturn, and wearing sneakers.

Meagan Manoogian Powell
West Orange, N.J.

It was strange looking up at the sky and being comforted by the sight of a huge airplane lumbering across the horizon. I never imagined that the roar of an airplane would be as soothing to me as a lullaby. At least for the moment, life seems as before...

Jody Tirado
Herndon, Va.

I am a letter carrier. On Tuesday, September 11, I was delivering Express Mail to a Vietnamese woman who told me that the last plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. I said, "This reminds me of the Tet Offensive. My camp came under attack as night fell, and as we were fighting word came across the radio that every major city in South Vietnam was being attacked, Ton Son Hut air base was overrun, the U.S. embassy had been penetrated and it was so incredibly frightening." She looked sad and said, "Yes, I remember."

Cyrus Creveling
Fairfax, Va.

I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Israel this summer. Although my family pleaded with me not to go, I really felt that I would be safe. The first weekend I was in Jerusalem, I sat outside an Internet cafe playing backgammon with some Israelis - It was a beautiful Mediterranean evening and Israelis and other Internationals alike shared conversation in the plaza on Russian Hill. All of a sudden, loud noise, a moment where my surroundings were silent as if being sucked up in a giant vacuum, and then screaming, shattered glass, chaos and sirens everywhere. I didn't know what to do, whether to hide under the table or run. Would there be gunfire? Bombs usually come in twos. I looked for as many colleagues as possible then took a cab out of there.

Thank God, no one was hurt in those explosions. There had been another bomb that evening, but the ever vigilant Israeli bomb squad was able to deactivate it. It was a wakeup call to me, realizing that I was in the middle of a war. The severity hadn't occurred to me which makes me feel ashamed.

Less than a week after that, a suicide bomber walked into a Tel Aviv disco and blew himself and several innocent human beings to pieces. I walked past the site of the bombing, on a beautiful stretch of beach, North of Jaffa. Flowers strewn everywhere, messages to the victims from family and friends, candles burned, and groups of young Russian teenagers tried to give each other comfort. I was moved to tears.

I flew from Tel Aviv to New York City to visit some friends of mine and to look into graduate programs. The day after I returned, I remember walking in Soho -- there was a loud noise, reminiscent of the bomb that I had heard explode that night in Jerusalem. A warm sense of relief washed over me when I recalled that I was not in danger, I was home, I was safe in our free country. Little did I realize, that this terrible tragedy would unfold just a couple of months later.

Tears fall for those who are missing loved ones or have in any way been touched by this on a personal level. I want to extend my love and solidarity to my fellow Americans. I want to fight, to reach out and love, do something to feel less helpless. I shall never forget what that moment of peace felt like, remembering that I was safe at home. Those days might be gone, but I will hold on to that memory forever.

Elizabeth Schneider
Seattle, Wash.

My friend of more than 25 years, Chief Warrant Officer William (Bill) Roderick Ruth, is among those listed by the Pentagon as missing. Bill was from Alliance, Ohio, and a graduate of Ohio schools and universities. Following his graduation Bill joined the United States Marine Corps and served with distinction, piloting helicopters in Vietnam. In the mid 1970s Bill relocated to Montgomery County, Md., becoming a teacher of geography in the school system. A man of varied interests, Bill held an amateur radio license, W3HRD. Not content to give up flying, Bill joined the Maryland Air National Guard, continuing his service to Maryland and America. During Operation Desert Storm, he again served with distinction in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. Returning to Maryland, Bill completed his career with Montgomery County Schools, retiring and going on active duty with the Guard. Bill was the father of two sons, sadly one of whom predeceased him. A gracious host and good friend to many, Bill was at his post in the Pentagon on September 11th. He has not been seen or heard from since, and will be missed by all who knew him.

Thank you for allowing me to share this memory of my friend, William Roderick Ruth.

John N. Rentz, Jr.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company