Six words for 9/11

This slideshow was originally published on Sept. 7, 2011.

How would you remember the events of September 11, 2001, in just six words? In this collaboration between Need to Know and SMITH Magazine, people share six-word memoirs of what happened that fateful morning, their process of healing and the many ways in which 9/11 transformed their lives forever.

When my dad’s life ended, my love for my dad did not end....I consider it a divine blessing that I was able to find ways to both grieve his loss and the tragedy of that day, but also keep my heart open and alive. Over the years, reflecting on the impact of 9/11 and the ways in which I found myself navigating that experience, the perspective of feeling like I was “broken open” emerged. When the feelings of grief, anger and sadness sprung forth after 9/11, on the other side of experiencing and expressing those emotions I felt the hardened shell of who I was cracked apart and I became more connected to my emotional / intuitive heart and soul. I felt more alive. I felt more connected with what I now consider my true self. It was kind of like feeling “snapped back” into the present moment....What is obvious to me is that all “things” in this life will all pass away. But a love that I feel deep in my heart and soul feels like it is alive in its own unique way, is connected to all of life, and is timeless. The love I feel for my dad I experience in this way. I can feel him alive within me – within my heart every day. Anytime I choose to reflect and go that place, that love is there and feels will always be there, forever.

Antonio Aversano 

When my dad’s life ended, my love for my dad did not end....I consider it a divine blessing that I was able to find ways to both grieve his loss and the tragedy of that day, but also keep my heart open and alive. Over the years, reflecting on the impact of 9/11 and the ways in which I found myself navigating that experience, the perspective of feeling like I was “broken open” emerged. When the feelings of grief, anger and sadness sprung forth after 9/11, on the other side of experiencing and expressing those emotions I felt the hardened shell of who I was cracked apart and I became more connected to my emotional / intuitive heart and soul. I felt more alive. I felt more connected with what I now consider my true self. It was kind of like feeling “snapped back” into the present moment....What is obvious to me is that all “things” in this life will all pass away. But a love that I feel deep in my heart and soul feels like it is alive in its own unique way, is connected to all of life, and is timeless. The love I feel for my dad I experience in this way. I can feel him alive within me – within my heart every day. Anytime I choose to reflect and go that place, that love is there and feels will always be there, forever.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was asleep, the phone rang. My wife, Deborah, didn’t pick it up and let the machine get it' she was feeding our 5-month-old son Jake. It was my sister. I could hear her asking if we saw what happened to the WTC. I jumped out of bed, turned on the TV, I started to get dressed. I ran downstairs and my wife looked at me. I turned on the TV, showed her and I told her I had to go. We can put this out. I didn’t know it was a terrorist attack. She didn’t want me to go but relented. I got a police escort all the way from LI. I parked close. Got my gear. Starting walking fast. As I was close, the first tower came down. After some clarity, I realized I was on Church St. by the hotel. Just as I was looking around, I looked up at the second tower, [and saw] the antenna swaying. I was with another fireman and cop and started running away as it came down. The force of the blast blew me into the subway. I dug my way out. I didn’t know where I was. There was silence. I was coughing, gagging. So much dust and debris. I searched 5WTC with a lieutenant and two photographers -- first floor to the roof -- all nine stories.

Anthony Emanuele 

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was asleep, the phone rang. My wife, Deborah, didn’t pick it up and let the machine get it' she was feeding our 5-month-old son Jake. It was my sister. I could hear her asking if we saw what happened to the WTC. I jumped out of bed, turned on the TV, I started to get dressed. I ran downstairs and my wife looked at me. I turned on the TV, showed her and I told her I had to go. We can put this out. I didn’t know it was a terrorist attack. She didn’t want me to go but relented. I got a police escort all the way from LI. I parked close. Got my gear. Starting walking fast. As I was close, the first tower came down. After some clarity, I realized I was on Church St. by the hotel. Just as I was looking around, I looked up at the second tower, [and saw] the antenna swaying. I was with another fireman and cop and started running away as it came down. The force of the blast blew me into the subway. I dug my way out. I didn’t know where I was. There was silence. I was coughing, gagging. So much dust and debris. I searched 5WTC with a lieutenant and two photographers -- first floor to the roof -- all nine stories.

My brother was Captain William F. Burke, Jr., of Engine Company 21. He was a good looking, charming guy. Lived in Manhattan, single, no kids. He loved New York City, loved life and loved his job. On September 11, he led his men down to the World Trade Center. He was in the north tower on the 27th floor, just after the collapse of the south tower.… He ordered, by radio, the safe evacuation of his men and they and the civilians they saved all survived. Billy stayed behind to assist two civilians.… He would continue to radio his men…and they would radio back saying, "We'll wait for you here. Wait for you here."  Billy said, "No, keep going. I'm right behind you. Meet at the rig." And all of his men survived and got out. The tower collapsed and Captain Billy Burke of Engine 21 perished with the other 2,746 innocents on September 11th at the World Trade Center. Those six words he kept repeating -- “Keep going, I'm right behind you" -- I think those are words he could be speaking to America in response to 9/11.  I think that's what Billy was kind of saying to America. Keep going, I'm right behind you."

Mike Burke 

My brother was Captain William F. Burke, Jr., of Engine Company 21. He was a good looking, charming guy. Lived in Manhattan, single, no kids. He loved New York City, loved life and loved his job. On September 11, he led his men down to the World Trade Center. He was in the north tower on the 27th floor, just after the collapse of the south tower.… He ordered, by radio, the safe evacuation of his men and they and the civilians they saved all survived. Billy stayed behind to assist two civilians.… He would continue to radio his men…and they would radio back saying, "We'll wait for you here. Wait for you here." Billy said, "No, keep going. I'm right behind you. Meet at the rig." And all of his men survived and got out. The tower collapsed and Captain Billy Burke of Engine 21 perished with the other 2,746 innocents on September 11th at the World Trade Center. Those six words he kept repeating -- “Keep going, I'm right behind you" -- I think those are words he could be speaking to America in response to 9/11. I think that's what Billy was kind of saying to America. Keep going, I'm right behind you."

My world got bigger after 9/11. Following the death of my brother, Jim, at the World Trade Center, I helped to found September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization made up of people who lost family members in the 9/11 attacks. Through my work with Peaceful Tomorrows, I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who have been impacted by war and terrorism.

David Potorti 

My world got bigger after 9/11. Following the death of my brother, Jim, at the World Trade Center, I helped to found September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization made up of people who lost family members in the 9/11 attacks. Through my work with Peaceful Tomorrows, I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who have been impacted by war and terrorism.

This is written as a parent who suffered the worst tragedy that can befall a parent. On September 11, 2001, my son Todd was on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. I was on the 77th floor. There was no escape for Todd and the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives on that terrible day. There is no formula for how to deal with such a tragedy. My family and I have found that the grief can turn into such a consuming anger that there is no room for any other feeling. I wanted to save my family [from] the overwhelming grief....At Todd's memorial service we spoke of how he had overcome a difficulty as a child when he was unable to go to school due an anxiety disorder. Todd overcame that disorder with the support of a skilled therapist and the love of his family. We decided to use Todd's story to help others who similarly suffer; Todd's story has inspired and helped many. For us, that has been the path to healing. Thus the tragedy has been transformed into hope for others. For more information please visit www.mybuddytodd.org.

Herb Ouida 

This is written as a parent who suffered the worst tragedy that can befall a parent. On September 11, 2001, my son Todd was on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. I was on the 77th floor. There was no escape for Todd and the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives on that terrible day. There is no formula for how to deal with such a tragedy. My family and I have found that the grief can turn into such a consuming anger that there is no room for any other feeling. I wanted to save my family [from] the overwhelming grief....At Todd's memorial service we spoke of how he had overcome a difficulty as a child when he was unable to go to school due an anxiety disorder. Todd overcame that disorder with the support of a skilled therapist and the love of his family. We decided to use Todd's story to help others who similarly suffer; Todd's story has inspired and helped many. For us, that has been the path to healing. Thus the tragedy has been transformed into hope for others.

For more information please visit www.mybuddytodd.org.

My husband, Alexander M. Filipov, was killed on AA #11, the first airplane to hit the towers on September 11, 2001. [At first,] I was angry and confused, hopeless, as if I were in a black hole, never to come out. But then, I thought of my husband: the stories he would tell, the way he helped our sons with their math, teaching them to sail by using the position of the stars, his love of gardening and inventing and painting. He sought out the best in people and cared about the world in all its beauty and pain. I knew he would not want me to be angry. In his name, and to celebrate the way he lived his life and not how he died, the Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum (www.alfilipov.org) was established. Each September, the forum invites a distinguished speaker from a variety of backgrounds and faith traditions to encourage listeners to work for social justice in their lives, communities and world.

Loretta Filipov 

My husband, Alexander M. Filipov, was killed on AA #11, the first airplane to hit the towers on September 11, 2001. [At first,] I was angry and confused, hopeless, as if I were in a black hole, never to come out. But then, I thought of my husband: the stories he would tell, the way he helped our sons with their math, teaching them to sail by using the position of the stars, his love of gardening and inventing and painting. He sought out the best in people and cared about the world in all its beauty and pain. I knew he would not want me to be angry. In his name, and to celebrate the way he lived his life and not how he died, the Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum (www.alfilipov.org) was established. Each September, the forum invites a distinguished speaker from a variety of backgrounds and faith traditions to encourage listeners to work for social justice in their lives, communities and world.

I lost my husband, Michael Patrick Iken, on 9/11. He worked for Euro Brokers in the south tower on the 84th floor....I was happily married, looking forward to having a child with my husband and, you know, he just goes to work one day and never comes home....For someone like myself, who never received any remains or any personal effects of Michael, I really felt that site where he took his last breath, his last step -- [that] his essence of being was there. And since I couldn't bring him home, I really felt connected to the space, that that was the place that I wanted to go to honor my husband in the future. And I didn't want that right to be taken away from myself and anyone else who felt that way as well. So it became my mission to make sure that we have that space in the future to be able to honor our loved ones and tell their story and tell what happened that day. And [now we have] this memorial... I think for us, we need to know they're home. I think that is very important in this process of healing, that now we have a place to go…that is where their final resting place is.

Monica Iken 

I lost my husband, Michael Patrick Iken, on 9/11. He worked for Euro Brokers in the south tower on the 84th floor....I was happily married, looking forward to having a child with my husband and, you know, he just goes to work one day and never comes home....For someone like myself, who never received any remains or any personal effects of Michael, I really felt that site where he took his last breath, his last step -- [that] his essence of being was there. And since I couldn't bring him home, I really felt connected to the space, that that was the place that I wanted to go to honor my husband in the future. And I didn't want that right to be taken away from myself and anyone else who felt that way as well. So it became my mission to make sure that we have that space in the future to be able to honor our loved ones and tell their story and tell what happened that day. And [now we have] this memorial... I think for us, we need to know they're home. I think that is very important in this process of healing, that now we have a place to go…that is where their final resting place is.

I married my college sweetheart, we had two young kids, and I was pregnant with our third. My husband, David, was traveling en route from Boston to L.A. when his flight was hijacked, and crashed into the World Trade Center. In the flash of an eye, I went from living the American dream to being at the center of America's worst nightmare. In the days and weeks after September 11th, I was immediately inundated with love and support from friends, family and even strangers from around the world and that support truly buoyed me up, and enabled me to move forward. The inspiration to reach out to widows in Afghanistan [via Beyond the 11th] really was a direct result of the support that I felt, having been widowed here in the United States and recognizing that the women in Afghanistan, when widowed, really had no support whatsoever. I feel a bond with these women because we've been terrorized by the same group of people. In May of 2006, we had an opportunity to meet so many of the women that were partaking in the programs. Although we come from such different backgrounds, [all those differences] really just got stripped away when we were sitting and having tea. We're all women, all wanting the same things for our children.

Susan Retik 

I married my college sweetheart, we had two young kids, and I was pregnant with our third. My husband, David, was traveling en route from Boston to L.A. when his flight was hijacked, and crashed into the World Trade Center. In the flash of an eye, I went from living the American dream to being at the center of America's worst nightmare. In the days and weeks after September 11th, I was immediately inundated with love and support from friends, family and even strangers from around the world and that support truly buoyed me up, and enabled me to move forward. The inspiration to reach out to widows in Afghanistan [via Beyond the 11th] really was a direct result of the support that I felt, having been widowed here in the United States and recognizing that the women in Afghanistan, when widowed, really had no support whatsoever. I feel a bond with these women because we've been terrorized by the same group of people. In May of 2006, we had an opportunity to meet so many of the women that were partaking in the programs. Although we come from such different backgrounds, [all those differences] really just got stripped away when we were sitting and having tea. We're all women, all wanting the same things for our children.

I am a seventh grade teacher. My principal handed me a piece of paper with info on it about what happened or what he knew/thought had happened. More importantly at the time, I was instructed to keep the kids in my room, keep them calm, and not talk about it. I carried on as best I could. They were calm and safe with me for a brief time until hell broke lose a short while after. Not until my room was empty of students did I break down in full hysterics. I had been holding it inside for more than should have been expected.

Lisa Bottone 

I am a seventh grade teacher. My principal handed me a piece of paper with info on it about what happened or what he knew/thought had happened. More importantly at the time, I was instructed to keep the kids in my room, keep them calm, and not talk about it. I carried on as best I could. They were calm and safe with me for a brief time until hell broke lose a short while after. Not until my room was empty of students did I break down in full hysterics. I had been holding it inside for more than should have been expected.

I was proud to be able to assist when the pager went off at 8:46 a.m. After arriving, my team and I were told to begin searching with the dogs. We walked 15 blocks to the pile, past hundreds of fire fighters, civilians and police. As we walked, they whispered "the dogs are here, they'll find them"; it was a humbling experience. Once on the pile, I felt both inadequate and overwhelmed at what lay before me. As the volunteers poured in, I was proud to see the American spirit I thought was long forgotten. As I lay down to rest that first night, my faith gave me strength to continue the arduous task before me. As American flags began to fly everywhere I looked, I learned the meaning of being patriotic.

Sarah Atlas 

I was proud to be able to assist when the pager went off at 8:46 a.m. After arriving, my team and I were told to begin searching with the dogs. We walked 15 blocks to the pile, past hundreds of fire fighters, civilians and police. As we walked, they whispered "the dogs are here, they'll find them"; it was a humbling experience. Once on the pile, I felt both inadequate and overwhelmed at what lay before me. As the volunteers poured in, I was proud to see the American spirit I thought was long forgotten. As I lay down to rest that first night, my faith gave me strength to continue the arduous task before me. As American flags began to fly everywhere I looked, I learned the meaning of being patriotic.

Our youngest child Peter was murdered on September 11, 2001 while attending a conference at Windows on the World at the World Trade Center. Shortly after he was killed, we learned that one billion people have directly experienced torture, terrorism or mass violence, and that 50 to 70 percent of survivors suffer from incapacitating traumatic depression and PTSD. There was nothing we could do for Pete, [but] if we could help those victims then that was the perfect memorial to honor Peter. The mission of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF) is to heal the invisible wounds of trauma. PCAF not only trains indigenous mental health professionals from post-conflict countries to heal traumatic depression and PTSD in their war-affected countrymen, but also operates mental health care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. To date, PCAF has trained more than 1,000 mental health professionals from 22 countries and has treated more than 100,000 victims.

The Aldermans 

Our youngest child Peter was murdered on September 11, 2001 while attending a conference at Windows on the World at the World Trade Center. Shortly after he was killed, we learned that one billion people have directly experienced torture, terrorism or mass violence, and that 50 to 70 percent of survivors suffer from incapacitating traumatic depression and PTSD. There was nothing we could do for Pete, [but] if we could help those victims then that was the perfect memorial to honor Peter. The mission of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF) is to heal the invisible wounds of trauma. PCAF not only trains indigenous mental health professionals from post-conflict countries to heal traumatic depression and PTSD in their war-affected countrymen, but also operates mental health care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. To date, PCAF has trained more than 1,000 mental health professionals from 22 countries and has treated more than 100,000 victims.