Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago

Everyone has a story to tell about Sept. 11, 2001. Here's mine.

I worked late the night before, as usual. My clock-radio went off at the usual 10 a.m. It was set to the alternative music station in town. I guess the station had a news department, but it didn't exactly specialize in world events.

This particular morning, though, the station was broadcasting nothing but news from some sort of national outlet. Most people are disoriented when they wake up as it is, but this was something different. After a minute of listening and determining that something terrible had happened in New York, I turned off the radio and turned on the television.

There on NBC, Tom Brokaw was discussing the fall of one of the towers of the World Trade Center, which had taken place a few moments before. The other was still standing, but was clearly smoking badly. You know how the rest of the day's story went, as details eventually came out.

I had only been in the WTC once, and that was to see a high school friend who had worked in the building. That friend had moved to a different location years ago, and when I talked to him a couple of weeks later he said he didn't even know anyone who still worked in the building.

Fast forward, then, to the Syracuse University alumni magazine's arrival in my mailbox some months later. The publication did an article on those who died in the terrorist attack with SU connections.

The second name on the list was Bill Bernstein. Bill worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, and I believe the story mentioned he had a wife and children.

It hit me surprisingly hard. Suddenly my thoughts were transported back to 1976, where I took a pair of speech classes. Bill was in both of them. I got to know him a little bit in that time, exchanging a couple of laughs and acknowledging him around the campus or in the dining hall with a wave. I remember he made a speech on the value of isometrics, which I'd kid him about. I can't say we were close friends or anything, but he certainly was a nice person.

After reading that, the entire arc of his life came into focus. He had graduated from college, went into business, married and had a family, commuted to work every day ... and was killed when some fanatics decided America needed to be punished for, well, something. Bill was just an innocent bystander, words that seem inadequate in this context.

On this day, and other September 11ths, I'll be thinking of Bill ... and all the other Bills and their families who lost their lives that day.

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