9/11…If we learn nothing else from this tragedy it is that life is too short for hate

Many of us can recall, with alarming accuracy, our exact location and what we were doing on that fateful morning 17 years ago. I was sleeping peacefully, after working the overnight shift at the crisis response center at Pennsylvania Hospital, in Philadelphia.

I was not aware of the terrorist attacks until a few hours later.

In fact, I typically would turn off my cell phone so as not to be awakened. My phone remained off until the early afternoon when I went to college.

I had just arrived at Community College of Philadelphia for my two science classes only to learn that the college had been closed. Philadelphia police had been instructing people to move away from the college buildings.

I asked what had happened, but didn’t get an informative response. The fear in their pained-expressions was obvious so I persisted no more, and walked away.

I had barely been awake for an hour and did not stop for my usual cup of coffee. It felt as if I was still sleeping because this made no sense at all. So I noticed that the hot dog vendor, on the corners of 17th and Spring Garden Streets, was still open for business.

But there were no customers.

So I approached the hot dog vendor (Yuksel), who I came to learn was a Turkish immigrant who loved soccer and talking with anyone who was up for a spirited conversation.

He was always smiling. But not on that day.

Normally he’d be selling food to a line of hungry customers. He was far more calm and serious than his norm.

I asked him what had happened, was there a bomb threat?

Yuksel explained that two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, and another hit the Pentagon. He wasn’t aware of the Shanksville attack. I learned about our nation’s worst terrorist attack by word-of-mouth, from a Turkish immigrant.

I left Yuksel with one cup of coffee. No food. My stomach was grumbling but my apetite had since faded.

Then I suddenly remembered that I never turned my cell phone back on when I got up half past eleven in the morning. So when I finally turned it on, my phone was blowing up with missed calls and voice messages.

My father, my now ex-wife, two of my sisters and a friend had all called within a couple of hours of the NYC attacks.

Photo by Denniz Futalan from Pexels

I wasn’t gripped by fear or even slightly panicked. But they all were, except for my father. My first thoughts were that terrorists had finally breached our security and we’re fortunate that it hasn’t happened more often.

But then the abstract morphed into the visceral when I learned that a former high school classmate, of mine, lost his brother in the New York attacks. The brother of an old acquaintance, who worked in Tower 7, was on vacation during the attacks. He had lost his coworkers and a few friends that fateful morning.

I felt awful for my former classmate and could not help but to wonder what it would be like to lose my entire group of coworkers like that. The closest one could ever come to that morbid experience would be during wartime combat.

The anguish and dread of family, friends and coworkers was ubiquitous. Suddenly the only news on TV, the radio or in print was an unrelenting stream of horror and death. It was simply unbearable to watch, this sensory overload of gloom.

But then I remembered how ‘coddled’ we are, and that we live in a society in which we take our freedoms and way-of-life for granted because that is all that most of us have known.

While I slept soundly there were people dying, first responders struggling to save lives, and many people who were now plagued by fear of the unthinkable: hate-filled people who crashed planes into buildings to spread that plague of fear and dread.

We need to remember the selfless courage and bravery of those who died and suffered on this day, 17 years ago. They showed the willingness to come together, even when facing danger, to save others. They were there when needed most, and many of them, continue to endure with life-changing injuries sustained as a direct result of being in the line of fire.

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September 11, 2001

American Airlines Flight 11: a Boeing 767 aircraft, departed Logan Airport at 7:59 a.m. en route to Los Angeles with a crew of 11 and 76 passengers, not including five hijackers. The hijackers flew the plane into the northern facade of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:46 a.m.

During the September 11 attacks of 2001, 2,996 people were killed (including the 19 hijackers) and more than 6,000 others injured. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.

There were 412 emergency workers who responded to the World Trade Center, which included 343 firefighters (including a chaplain and two paramedics) of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), who died heroically.

When the two planes crashed into the towers, more than 24,000 gallons of jet fuel ignited a fire that spread to 100,000 tons of organic debris and 230,000 gallons of transformer, heating and diesel oils in the buildings, setting off a giant toxic plume of soot and dust from pulverized building materials, according to a Centers for Disease Control Prevention report.

As the fires continued to burn during the rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero, workers were exposed to chemicals like carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, asbestos, crystalline silica, and other metals and particulates.

Not surprisingly, studies have revealed that those exposed to the World Trade Center dust were more likely to develop lung problems, asthma, sinus problems, and other respiratory symptoms.

Available Healthcare and Compensation

The James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed into law by President Obama in early 2011, establishes the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program. It ensured that those exposed to the 9/11 disaster would continue to receive monitoring and treatment services for 9/11-related health problems through at least 2090.

Then in 2015, President Obama signed into law a bill reauthorizing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which reauthorized the VCF for an additional five years.

The WTC Health Program consists of a Responder Program (for rescue and recovery workers, including more than 15,000 New York City firefighters) and a Survivor Program (for those who worked, lived or went to school in lower Manhattan on 9/11).

Services are also available for responders to the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, sites also attacked on 9/11. Eligible people can receive services, regardless of where they live in the United States. See here to learn more about services eligibility and pertinent additional information.

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Additional Compensation for Related Losses Suffered by Victims

Between newly-authorized funding, and the Act’s original funding, over $7 billion was made available to 9/11 victims. In addition to health-related expenses, the Victims Compensation Fund may cover ‘intangibles’ such as loss of earnings.

The deadline for registering with the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund has been extended. Eligible individuals who make a successful claim, tax-free financial benefits may be provided until 2090.