The morning of September 11th, 2001, I was sitting in my office at a prior job, admiring the beautiful blue sky outside my window, when my phone rang.

“I can’t reach your brother anymore. His phone cut off. He was running and his phone just died,” my mother cried on the other end.

For a moment, I had no idea why she was upset or what she was talking about.  But then another line rang and a friend’s voice, equally upset, screamed to me, “They’re flying planes into buildings where your brother is.”

I sat stunned for a minute, paralyzed with fear and dread.  I opened my office door and there was an eerie feeling in the air.  It was noisy, yet quiet and somber at the same time.

There was an entire staff of editors and researchers located in the area just outside my office door.  Fax machines were making noise and phones were ringing.  But people were walking around stone-faced and shocked.  A co-worker was looking for a radio, so I called my sister and we put her on speakerphone so we could hear her television.  In no time, the other side of the office started to congregate and joined the others around the same telephone, listening to reports of planes having struck the Twin Towers in NY (before news of DC and Pennsylvania came in).

My brother worked for a Wall Street brokerage firm at the time, just steps away from the World Trade Center.  By now, my mom had explained to me that she’d been on the phone with him while he’d been running from his building.  He’d called her, absolutely frantic, trying to tell her that planes had hit the Twin Towers and he was trying to escape the area.  He was describing an absolutely horrific scene of destruction and death as my mom cried on the other end.  And then the phone went dead.

As I looked around at all of my co-workers, all I could think about was how many families were having the same phone call that morning.  Being in NJ, most of us had friends and family and business associates in NYC, some of them in those buildings.  And for those who didn’t, they knew someone who did.  We all shared some moments with one another, before leaving the office to try and find or just be with our loved ones.

I drove straight to my mother’s house, where the whole family gathered and waited to hear from my brother again, not knowing if he was safe.  Every few minutes, the phone would ring and it would be a family member or friend, checking to see if he had made it out and home safely.  My parents planned to try and drive into the city to see if they could find him, but quickly realized that there would be no entry into NYC with nearly everything blocked off.  It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that we’d finally heard back from him.  He’d borrowed the phone of a stranger and was able to get the call through to let us know he’d made it across the Brooklyn Bridge by foot and could hitch a ride to an exit on a nearby highway, where I had later picked him up myself.  We all spent the night together at my parents’ house, thankful to know that my brother was safe, but heartbroken about what our country was enduring.

My mother still has that stranger’s phone number written down and saved on a piece of paper.

September 11th taught me the importance of family and loved ones in our lives, as well as the compassion of those we may not know, and that we can never, ever take life for granted.  So many were not as lucky as my family on that day, and my thoughts will forever be with them.

This post is an introduction to my brother and my family’s experience on September 11th, 2001.  I tell a more detailed story of the full day and the weeks that followed in this post that I wrote in 2010, and I encourage readers to go and read the full story.  In that post, I also detailed the difficulties that my brother and many other workers from around the Ground Zero area in NYC experienced in returning to work after the 2001 terrorist attacks.  So many of them were workers in the financial district – just everyday workers who showed up to their jobs on September 11th, never expecting that they might not return home again.  A good many of them returned to work in NY, overlooking Ground Zero, after the attacks, despite their fears and the constant reminders of what had happened there.  We may have had our troubles on Wall Street since, but so many of those everyday workers came together to keep the markets going as a symbol to the terrorists that America would not be taken down so easily.

To all those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001 in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania, and to those who have perished in protecting our country, we will never forget.