Jennifer Cabot Finkelstein
Contributor's location on 9/11:
26 Federal Plaza, NY, NY
September 11, 2002
I am a social worker and on that day was late for work. I ran out of my apartment when i saw on t.v that a plane had crashed into the tower. I thought that it was an accident and thought that i might be needed for trauma intervention. I work at 26 Federal Plaza as a counselor to federal employees. I was mad at myself that on this day of all days, I was late for work and was not there when the first plane hit. I imagined that Federal Plaza was being evacuated and how could I not be there to help-out! While on the subway, heading downtown, an annoucement came on saying that the twoer had been hit and that the subway car would not go south of Chambers Street. Again, at this point I am made at myself for not being there already and I was anxious to get there asap. I'll never forget on the subway car, this old couple saying that they were on their way down to the world Trade Center Observation Deck as they were tourists. They said calmly to themselves, but others could hear them, that they would simply change their plans for the morning and go to the Statue of Liberty instead. Innocence was still present.
Minutes later, I was on the street downtown. My beeper was going off as I had been paged by my remote base office in Atlanta. They told me that there had been a disaster but by this point I was staring right at the scene, and told them that it was like a war zone. My cell phone continued to work and I explained to them that I would try to get down to Federal Plaza, and call them from there. I walked as far South as I could go but it seemed as the whole downtown area had been bombed. Little did I know that the towers had fallen while I was on the subway. There was such thick smoke I could not see the towers so I assumed it was just a bomb. To my horror, poeple were running with soot covered faces and blood on their cheeks. Next to the street was a Con Edison Electric truck. The radio was blarring from the truck and I paused to listen: it was Mayor Guillianni saying, "Please evacuate lower Manhattan. Please get yourselves North of Canal Street." I called my supervisor back by using my cell phone and told him that I was confused as to how I could help, what should I do? Although in Atlanta, he told me that he was listening to the radio and that the towers had been hit by terrorists and that I should just keep walking uptown to safety.
At this point I watched in horror, feeling immobolized as people walked up the street. People in business clothes and shoes walking like shell-shocked victims of war. The scene was like a bad movie.
Suddenly, a loud boom. People started running. I know now that a car must have back-fired, but at the time it sounded like another bomb. And people were already hysterical thus this noise only exacerbated the situation. I slid myself next to a building alcove and waited until more people had run by. I felt shocked and confused by the scene. It was hard to comprehend that an "attack" had taken place. I called my supervisor back and my cell phone worked again! My supervisor was a g-dsend and talked to me as I started the walk, 6 miles, home. He was calm and supportive and reminded me that as a social worker I would be needed, but not right now. He also called my family who reside in Philadephia and told them that I was safe.
As I walked uptown, people walked right through the streets as the streets were already closed off to cars and buses. It was a strange walk home for as I walked I picked up more information from people on the street and from radios on the sidewalks. I'll never forget this fruit stand that had a radio: people were gathered around it to hear the latest report. It was at this fruit stand that I learned that another plane had crashed in PA and D.C.
When I got home I was exhausted physically and emotionally but my 9/11 experience had only just started. Two days after 9/11, I began to run groups for survivors and employees affected by the tragedy. It was a hard time for me because I felt that I had to suppress some of my own responses and reactions in order to run groups for others. I collapsed at the end of every day. It was a fatigue that I have never felt before and hope to never feel again. I led groups almost every day until about November. I saw many individuals too who needed counseling.
Back in Federal Plaza, weeks later, we had to buy air purifyers for our office, even though we were up on the 33rd floor and had all our windows permanently shut! The air quality was poor for months. People walked around outside with masks on. We also were plagued by the helicopters flying over head all day long.
Yesterday, 9/10/2002, I attended the commemoration ceremony at Federal Plaza. I cried my eyes out as I finally had an opportunity to self-reflect as a person not as a social worker. I recall the courage of many, the fear and loss by all, and the resiliency that has allowed us to begin to heal.
I still provide groups for employee struggling with 9/11 and I talk about how there is no return to "normal, rather we have to create a new normal for ourselves."
Jennifer Cabot Finkelstein
Jennifer Cabot Finkelstein,
Story #4079, The September 11 Digital Archive
, 11 September 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/stories/details/4079>.
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