Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

How 9/11 Changed Us


Magdi Labib: "Our hearts haven't healed."  

Magdi Labib
Former captain at Windows on the World. He lost many colleagues—and his job—in the attack.

After the buildings collapsed, and the loss of all those colleagues, we went to memorials and memorials and memorials. Too many. I couldn’t work. I went back to Egypt and stayed with my family. There they put me together, little by little. I came back, and there were no jobs. Finally, I was hired at Ben Benson’s steakhouse, on 52nd off Sixth Avenue. I liked the people there, and I started my life all over again. I would say 50 percent of us haven’t gotten our lives together. I made the mistake after 9/11 of going down there, and it was devastating. It was still smoking, all the wreckage. I try not to go down there—it feels like parts of you are still down there. And actual parts of your friends and colleagues are still there. All of us who survived stay in touch. We get together every month or so, at this Chinese restaurant—almost only foreigners go there. Sometimes we talk about one of the guys or girls and someone will just start crying. The scars in our hearts still haven’t healed yet. Every now and then we just cry for nothing. We just hope to God that we can help each other out.

Richard Serra
Sculptor. He witnessed the attack and its aftermath.

I live three blocks away. I was there and watched it all. The thing that sticks with me was the people jumping. There was some denial of the fact that people were dying. I think the press rightfully withheld a lot of images of that. People actually holding hands as they jumped, people trying to fly. That was harder to erase than other images. If you lived there, you got a body blow and you got rewired. And that was hard to deal with for a while. I think the proximity of the event had a lot to do with how you register the trauma. The farther away, the more media-ized it was.

I was impressed by the community’s willingness to pitch together. But I was already unhappy with the administration: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft. Their indifference, intolerance, and arrogance. There was a big rallying around Bush afterward. It wasn’t how I hoped the country would proceed. In a way, it puts the country in more harm’s way. They lie to the U.N., they lie about weapons of mass destruction, they just lie, lie, lie. Ashcroft answers in the most smug, indifferent way. You’d think they’re talking to a child, not to citizens of this country.

Irene Lyons
Widow of firefighter Pat Lyons. Their son was born October 7, 2001.

I went from being married to being a mom. I exchanged one person for another. I never had them both at the same time, so I didn’t know what it was like to be a family. Little Patrick is my savior. If I didn’t have him, I don’t know where I’d be. I spend a lot of time scrapbooking about Pat’s life for the baby. And I’m videotaping people’s stories about Pat, so the baby can someday hear them firsthand. It’s very slow. But it’s also very therapeutic.

I was the chief financial officer of a small company. I can’t sit around and do nothing, so I’ve set up a foundation and a Website, It started when a bunch of his friends wanted to have a golf outing, and I said, “Let’s do it right.” We have a friend whose son has leukemia. He’s treated at the Cancer Center for Kids at Winthrop Hospital, so I decided that’s where I want most of the proceeds to go. On September 15, we’re having this huge golf outing. We’re filling up two courses with 288 golfers, and we’re still turning people away. I’ve always been very generous at cutting a check for a charity. But to actually be doing the work, it’s something I probably never would have done if September 11 never happened.

Time helps, but I don’t cry any less. I can burst into tears just sitting there having dinner. I was in Bermuda last week, my first vacation since September 11. Up near the outdoor bar, they had a radio on, and it was very loud. They cut to the news, and they were talking about the remains at the World Trade Center, something about new scientific ways to check the DNA. I’m lying on the beach, and I’ve got tears in my eyes. I’m very rational, but there’s that really deep part of me that ignores that it happened and thinks he’s still at work and he’s coming home.

“The media took it over and logo-ized it. The images became very dangerous, because they stopped people from thinking.”

Liz Thompson
Executive director, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She left Windows on the World moments before the first plane hit.

Afterward, it was remarkable the way the downtown community became like a small town. I still have that feeling. But I went through two rounds of post-traumatic stress disorder. And that was a surprise. The evolution of getting over it was surprising. I just had sort of severe stomach pains; I was told they were most likely stress. This morning, I walked out and I thought, It’s a beautiful day. And it feels like that September 11 day.

It’s been difficult, but it’s also been uplifting. People caring for each other. The concern we have now is to make sure that the new development turns into something diverse and interesting—that some challenging art and artists are involved in it. Because I think the greatness of our country is challenging ourselves, looking at ourselves in an honest and questioning way—though the work that’s done on the site itself should be reverential.

Brian Kennedy
Student. He tried to join the war on terror by enrolling in Georgetown University’s Security-Studies program.

I was working for On magazine as an associate editor. It closed right after 9/11, in November. I wanted to join the CIA to help catch terrorists. I actually thought this was like World War II all over again. My dad called that night and said, “It’s just like Pearl Harbor! We’re living through history!” Good versus evil, lines being drawn, what are you gonna do? I thought about going down to Times Square and joining the Army until I realized that they didn’t need people to do that. So I decided to go back to school. I did lots of research for military-studies programs, and this one is a CIA farm team.

But when I got down to D.C., I found out I didn’t want to join the CIA at all. I didn’t want to live in a tract house in Vienna, Virginia, and have an I.D. on a chain around my neck and go home to my wife and not be able to bitch about my job. I didn’t realize it was going to be that white-bread and that dull. Everybody I know in the CIA hates it. Now I want to get back into journalism. I’m still going to probably stay in Washington, though. I go back to New York and everybody seems bummed out still. D.C. seems like a happier place.

Paul Steiger
Managing Editor, Wall Street Journal. The Journal’s offices are across the street from the World Trade Center.

I’m sitting in my office, which is the same office I had before 9/11. As I look out my window, I can see almost no difference. If I walk to the other side of the building, I look down into the hole. Everything is totally different. And I think that kind of sums up the way I feel about it. On the one hand, everybody here persevered and pulled together and we’re now back in our headquarters, doing journalism pretty much the way we’ve always done it. But I think all of us were changed; we’ll never be the same.

I feel as if we’ve all grown; we’ve all been tested. I think I have more confidence that we can work our way through just about any kind of challenge. I always knew the people I work with were capable, but I didn’t realize what they were capable of.

Certainly, for months after 9/11, I would find myself seeing, to me, the starkest memory, the bodies falling—the live bodies and the dead bodies—from the towers, which you could see looking out our windows. I had colleagues who were taking the subway into work and were coming out of the WTC even as bodies were falling around them.

But I think our people got great satisfaction from being able to produce a terrific paper under just harrowing circumstances that first night. I mean, a paper that ultimately won the staff a Pulitzer Prize. It was amazing. People just knew what to do. We organized a rump newsroom in South Brunswick, where the paper was put out that night, and went from there.

The worst time, oddly enough, was when the anthrax business hit. Clearly, news organizations and political leaders were the two target groups. And yet this was something that was very hard to detect. That was the only time where the stresses and frustrations got to people.

And then, with Danny Pearl, there is a new recognition that the press can be targets. Every day when I get on and off the elevators, there’s the memorial to Danny. Sometimes when somebody gets killed, their virtues get exaggerated. That’s not true in Danny’s case. He was really a terrific reporter and writer, with a good heart and a strong spirit. What was done to him was barbaric, but we remember him as a wonderful friend and a wonderful journalist.

Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift