A Time to Remember–14 Years Ago Today

For my Toastmasters Club, I wanted to do a speech to memorialize the events that had happened on September 11, 2001 as I remembered them from my vantage point in midtown New York City.    I originally had thought of doing it as a narrative, but then an improvisation workshop I  took at a Toastmasters Leadership Institute session gave me the idea of doing is a play, recreating the events and dialogue I had with co-workers and family.    

It was a lot more effective to act out the events of the day rather than simply describing them.    I wanted to get across two key ideas, that humor can help you distance yourself from painful events to help you survive them, and that something positive can be gained from adversity with an attitude of gratitude.

Time to Remember

(Stepping out to audience, and singing these lyrics of “Time to Remember” from The Fantastiks )

Try to remember the kind of September when you were a tender and callow fellow

Try to remember and if you remember then follow … follow follow follow

(beckoning to audience in “follow me” gesture, sitting down in chair)

(Picks up imaginary telephone) Hello, this is Mitsubishi Motors, can I help you? (Suddenly smiling and relaxing) Oh, Dad! Why are you calling me here in New York so early? It must be only 7:00 AM there in Chicago—oh, slow down, slow down. (Sitting forward, with worried look.) Oh you were watching CNN when you saw a report of … what? A plane hit the World Trade Center? John’s company is in one of those buildings, you know. Did you call him? You got a busy signal. Okay, I’ll call him and then call you back. Oh, speaking of planes, did Mom get on her plane yet? Well, call her while I’m calling John.

(reaches for telephone) First, I’d better tell Ken about this—he’s the only with a TV in his room. (Getting up, knocks on imaginary door in center stage.) Sorry, Ken—this is an emergency. My Dad called from Chicago and said he saw on television that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. You’d better turn the TV on to find out what’s going on. (Now looking to left at imaginary TV.)

Watches TV—I have no idea what kind of plane it was, but it must be one hell of an accident. (Puzzled look, and then shakes head in noncomprehension.) What? A second explosion? Where did that come from? A second plane (“oh my God” look forming on face)? You know what this means, don’t you. I’ve get to tell our boss.

(stepping back, folding hands in calm gesture and speaking directly to the audience)

At this point, we knew it was a terrorist attack, not an accident. I tried calling my brother John, but there was no answer; all communication was now cut off. It turns out his company, Marsh & McLellan, was in the center of where the plane hit in the North Tower. I knew he was safe because he didn’t work in that building, but rather in a building in Midtown Manhattan near where I worked. It was my mother I was worried about, because as far as I knew, she was getting ready to board a flight heading from the East Coast to Chicago.

(Moving forward and talking in center stage at same colleague’s “door” as before.)

I heard the secretary next door started a rumor that they “got the Sears Tower in Chicago” (imitating New York accent). Did they attack it or are they just evacuating it?  What is it, Ken? What’s happening to the South Tower? (looking at TV, staring in horror, as hands slowly cover face)

For months after seeing the South Tower fall in September 11, I had a recurring nightmare. I’m in an office building, and there’s a rumbling like an earthquake. I look outside the window and the high-rise buildings next to us inexplicably start shooting upward. And then, I realize that they are not shooting up in the air—it is our building that is falling to the ground, and I have only a few seconds to live … and then I wake up in a cold sweat.

I finally went to a hypnotherapist and he found under hypnosis that during that time when I saw the building fall, I empathized with those poor people who were about to die to the point that I identified with them. That’s why in my imagination I joined them in their final moments.

Yes, Hase-san. Major Guiliani as just given the evacuation has just been ordered.  One problem: there’s no public transport going in or out of Manhattan. I guess we’ll have to walk to the bridge, cross it and take transport on the other side. Hai, gambarimasho. Yes, let’s all persevere.

On the way back home, as I crossed the bridge from Manhattan to Queens, I saw the two gaping wounds in the Manhattan skyline pouring out smoke. I had the same feeling many had that day that we had just experienced the Pearl Harbor of our generation.

Oh, I’m so thirsty, thank Heaven for 7-11. (Tries door, face showing surprise) How could a 7-11 be closed? Wait a minute–there’s a sign … “closed due to terrorist attack”. Oh, for goodness sake. Why, did they think they were next? That’s what I call delusions of grandeur.

I can just see it now, Osama bin Laden is in a cave somewhere saying, “well, did you get the World Trade Center?” “Yes, we did!” “What about the Pentagon?” “Yes, we did!” “What about the 7-11 in the mini-mall in Queens?” “Uh, no, we didn’t!” “Son of an infidel! You’d better get it next time!” (Laughs at ridiculous image.)

I realized just then that I had laughed for the first time since all of this started. Of course I wasn’t laughing at the terrorist attack, I was laughing at fear. It was suddenly as if a fog lifted, and I realized, if I can laugh at fear, I can survive and move forward. I walked home the rest of the way.

(Hands in prayer position) Hey, I know you’re busy today, but you’re the only one who hasn’t given me a busy signal all day. Please make sure my brother and mother are okay, that’s all I ask. (phone rings) Dad! (points thumb up to ceiling in “OK”gesture). Oh, I’m so glad to hear your voice. I just got in. Is Mom okay? Oh, her plane got grounded. Yeah, she and thousands of other people. Oh, well, at least she’s okay. And John? I’m sure he sounded shaken, considering … Poor guy! Well, Dad, at least all in the people in your family are still alive. I really appreciate you calling. I love you, Dad! (looking upward and mouthing the words) Thank you.

(getting up and singing final verses from “Time to Remember”

Deep in December it’s nice to remember without the hurt the heart is hollow

Deep in December it’s nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow

Deep in December our hearts will remember and follow …


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