By Kim Doley
Fifteen years ago on a regular Tuesday, I went to work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and experienced one of the craziest, most emotional days of my life. I remember the whole thing like it was a dream in slow motion.
I was having a breakfast sandwich from Au Bon Pain, getting ready to start the day. I felt the building shake, saw that the newswire reported that a plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers, and thought it must’ve been a helicopter, a commuter plane, or something similar. Sad, but not a huge deal. A few minutes later, the building shook again—another plane, the other tower.
Fear and panic overcame some people who immediately exited the building and made their way home and some just went about their day as though the bell was about to ring and all was business as usual. I was so confused, totally lost, already out of my element as a 21-year-old from New Orleans, nine months out of college, working on Wall Street, and experiencing what was likely a planned attack. When people finally began to realize the severity of what was happening, things became even more confusing. I talked to my dad and to a friend who worked a few blocks away. My friend was horrified because from her office, she could see people trapped inside of the building from the gaping hole the plane left. Then finally, a decision was made to evacuate because the Exchange was a likely target. We left the building and stood outside, inhaling burning, sharp smoke and wondering what was next. At some point, we learned about the Pentagon and waited to see what was next.
It didn’t seem safe outside so we were brought back into the building. No one was sure that was a safe option either. We sat and we waited. Finally, they were confident that it was okay for us to leave and we made our way to the exit ready to brave our journey home. As we were filing out of the building, the first tower fell with a huge rumble, a plume of smoke the size of a building rushing down Broad Street towards the Exchange. I was fortunate enough to be in the lobby, not quite outside yet, safe from the debris. Through the glass doors though, I saw that plume of smoke turn day into total darkness. Sadly, some of my friends were not so lucky and weren’t able to get back in after the doors were closed. We made our way back inside and waited, sitting on the floor, watching CNN in horror as the second tower fell. I sat with friends and colleagues, some of them anxious, fearful, yet hopeful that they would get through to their loved ones who worked in or near the WTC to confirm they were okay.
I sat with others that knew there was no possibility that their loved ones made it out of the building alive. I remember seeing their blank, distraught, sad faces, not knowing what to say, and probably not realizing at the time or being sensitive to what they were going through. I also remember thinking in a logical and clear way that it’s possible that we could die today.
After several hours, people finally started to leave to make their way home; and I decided to leave around 1:30 after the heavy black smoke cleared and left only ash and debris floating in the air. Along with hundreds of others, I walked uptown to Grand Central with a colleague who was anxiously trying to get through to his sister who worked in one of the towers. He finally got through to her and we celebrated together as he cried tears of huge relief. I made it home later that day safely, without incident, totally exhausted and covered in soot and ash even to my underclothes. I spent the next five days glued to the TV hungry for any new information to know what was going on to try to make sense of what happened. I can’t say whether knowing helped, but I do know that the weeks that followed returning to work were somber and frightening. I vividly remember emerging from the subway the next Monday and being met by the cloudy, smoky air stinging my nose, a white layer of ash covering the street, soldiers with machine guns manning the corners, and everyone walking silently toward work knowing that a huge gravesite was still burning and search efforts continued a few blocks away.
I’ve always felt like my September 11 story didn’t warrant being told because it wasn’t a tragic story or a story of extraordinary triumph. Mine seemed insignificant compared to what others experienced.
For several days I’ve been through a physically challenging yoga training after which my body felt open, exhausted, and emotional. When it started to come on, I wasn’t surprised because I know that the twists and hip openers I had been doing often overwhelm me emotionally without any apparent external triggers. After the training was done, I still had this heavy feeling that wouldn’t leave. I mentioned to one of the other participants the concept of our bodies holding onto memories of old events. She shared her favorite poem with me called Scars by Daniel Halpern. When I got home, I realized what day it was and began to reflect on the events of 15 years ago. It occurred to me that although my mind hadn’t realized or thought to connect the 15th anniversary of September 11 to what I was feeling, my body was there to tell me differently. It’s easy for me to push thoughts away, but unexpressed emotions stay present long after the incident has past. These emotions had been sending messages to me the past few days and who knows how long before then. Our unexpressed emotions show up in our bodies in the form of physical pains, cravings, addictions, mental and physical disease, and much more. Our minds believe that’s easier to shut down and block out the thoughts rather than experiencing the full expression of what’s bubbling underneath.
For the past fifteen years, my body had been holding all of the emotions of fear, anxiety, deep grief, and sadness of my own experience and what I felt through others’ experiences. I was able to release a little bit of that today and send that healing energy and my prayers to those that experienced loss or really horrific things that day. They need healing far more than I do. The burning smell and the heaviness of the atmosphere in downtown Manhattan took months to clear and the structures took years to rebuild. The heaviness the events that day created in our hearts will always remain. With healing, we become stronger because of it. Never forget 9-11-01