November 10, 2009





Big Medicine is published by Team EMS Inc.


Managing Editor

Hal Newman  


Contact: ideas@tems.ca




Avi Bachar

Steve Crimando

Angela Devlen

David Newman

Hal Newman

Chris Piper

Norm Rooker

Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

Jim Rush

Blair Schwartz

Geary Sikich

Ric Skinner

W. David Stephenson

David Suzuki

Sacha Vais

Beryl Wajsman


Contributor Emeritus

Erik Ronningen




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The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any of their organizations. In particular, the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Big Medicine, nor any member of Team EMS Inc.



















THE WORLD TRADE CENTER : September 11, 2001

© 2004 by Erik O. Ronningen


As a consultant to the company that owned and operated the World Trade Center, it has been my privilege to have breakfast, lunch and dinner, coffee breaks, and walks with well over a hundred people directly involved… discussing their individual experiences, hopes and fears related to this incident. And do you know what the primary topic of conversation turns to? Almost without exception, the conversation turns to questioning why a God, a Lord, a Supreme Deity would allow so many innocent people to die… or some variation of this… So many innocent people dying… Isn’t this the topic your conversations frequently turn to when discussing this event?

Let me take a moment to put the September 11th World Trade Center incident into perspective. Nearly 3,000 people dying in less than two hours in the manner in which they did is a shock. Yet, approximately 2-1/2 million people die in the United States each year; that is over 6,800 individual deaths each and every day in this country alone.

Why God would allow so many innocent people to die is the wrong question. Our questions should be about death. 95 people, “innocent” or not will have died in America in the time it will take you to read this article. It is the wrong question because it brings into question His wisdom, and exposes our arrogance in thinking that we have a better plan than the Supreme Deity who created this earth, planned and established order in nature, and populated the planet with the most intelligent creature of all – you and me. Like any well organized and well run organization, wouldn’t it seem reasonable that the Lord would have a well-ordered master plan in operation for us, the highest order of life?

The question I would like to discuss briefly with you is, Why do some people die, and other do not? Let’s consider this question calmly and dispassionately.

On the surface, death appears haphazard, random, chance, bad luck. But upon closer examination, don’t people die exactly when they are due to die? Listen to this from Job; “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? His days are determined, the number of his months is with thee, and thou has appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” (Job 7:1, 14:5)

Let’s look at a couple of examples that help illustrate this concept of dying at the “appointed time:”

A businessman from Pleasantville, New York kissed his wife goodbye and drove to his local place of business. When he never returned for dinner Tuesday night, or the following day, she discovered that he had to go to New York City and attend a last minute unscheduled meeting – in the World Trade Center. Do you think he would have lived longer if he stayed home? Not according to Job. His days are determined… days that he cannot pass.

A forty-year-old man from Mamaroneck, New York who worked in the Twin Towers awakened ill that Tuesday morning and called in sick. Exactly one week later he died from a heart attack. By not being present for the events of the 11th, do you think he lived longer than his appointed time?

Perhaps a clearer approach to examining this concept—that we do not die before our set time (Ecclesiasticus 17:2)—is by looking at a few examples of why people were not at their desks that morning of September 11th:

Richard, an associate of mine lives five blocks away in Battery Park City. He is almost always at his desk a little before nine. But that morning, half way to work he remembered that he forgot his pager. “I never forget my pager,” he nervously told me. The delay he encountered by returning and retrieving it put him one block away when Americans Airlines flight #11 flew into Tower One. The way he figures it, he would have been in the elevators. Why did Richard “forget” to take his pager - that morning?

Dorothy, an acquaintance that works on the 105th floor for Marsh USA, stopped by her favorite coffee brewery to purchase her normal morning cup of coffee. Arriving in the lobby of Tower One, for whatever reason, she inexplicably decided to look inside the bag at her order. It was wrong. Impatience took charge as she marched back to the coffee shop to get it corrected. One minute later, the fireballs exploded through the elevator doors and whirled through the lobby, engulfing many employees. Why did Dorothy “inexplicably” decide to check out her coffee order - that morning?

One last example, from dozens heard first hand which illustrates that we do not die if it is not our time to die:

A financial trader employed by Cantor Fitzgerald, on the way up to his office each morning was in the habit of purchasing a couple of donuts from the donut shop located on the Plaza. The past couple of weeks, conscious of his ever-expanding midsection, he exercised restraint and passed by his morning treat, going directly to the 101st floor of Tower One. This Tuesday morning, he was at his desk maybe a minute when he had the overpowering impulse to go back down and buy some donuts. By the time he arrived at the donut shop, the Boeing 767 had driven through his floor. Why did this man have an “overpowering impulse” to go back and buy a donut - that morning?

Perhaps some of you have had the experience of miraculously escaping an injury, or possibly death. And maybe you used the expression, or heard others pronounce; My guardian angle was looking over me. Listen to the confirmation of this from Psalms; “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Psalms 91:11; Luke 4:10)

Doesn’t this verse suggest that we are watched over, and if it is not our “appointed time” to die, that we are kept out of, or guided out of harms way? Where did the thought come from that impelled those individuals to leave the scene of danger? A forgotten pager; the inexplicable decision to check a coffee order; an overpowering impulse to take two elevators, an escalator and a half block walk… to buy a donut! And a little voice, that said “Walk east.” Don’t these examples illustrate the 11th verse of the 91st chapter of Psalms in operation?

I recently had lunch with Port Authority Police Officer, David Lim, who with five firefighters from Ladder Company Number 6, were helping Josephine Harris out of Tower One. They were on the 4th floor stair well when the Tower collapsed around them. When the dust settled, they discovered that they were standing on top of the pile – not only alive, but also virtually unharmed!

If it is not your time to die, you will not die – regardless of how dire the circumstances appear at the time.

These examples are not arbitrary or coincidental. There are hundreds – thousands from September 11th alone, upon which we may think. And in thinking a little further, eventually… eventually we will arrive at the realization that there must be more to life than the seeming haphazardness of what we see all around us.

Wouldn’t a real knowledge and a better understanding of death give us all a clearer, calmer, more sane, and a more intelligent outlook on the subject?

While you are reading this article, I would but ask that you think about the following two questions:

1. Is there a master plan to life, or is life haphazard?
2. How do I get real answers to my questions?

I’d like to thank you for allowing me share with you a little of my morning that unforgettable day… and for giving me the opportunity to put a little substance into a subject for which we have so many questions, and for which some of us would like answers.

Part One : September 11, 2001

Tuesday, September 11th was an interesting day. I was there... at my desk on the 71st floor of Tower One, windows looking east and south over New York Harbor on an unusually clear, and magnificently beautiful morning... when suddenly, and without warning the entire tower jolted south then snapped north, wrenched back and yanked north yet again, staggering like a drunk that had tripped and was struggling to regain his balance. People walking or standing were thrown to the floor while the rest of us hung on for dear life. I thought the tower was going to snap at its base and topple over like an extension ladder. The roar from somewhere above assaulting our ears sounded like an express freight train crossing an old railroad trestle. A huge flaming red and bright orange fireball came whooshing, blistering down and exploded not 25 feet outside my windows. Then the blizzard began. A blizzard of paper and debris forced out of the upper tower from the explosion, so intense I could no longer see New York Harbor, or east out over Queens and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The floor began to fill with smoke, and the carpets with water flooding out of the freight elevator shaft. And from all around, the cry of people yelling to evacuate the building.

The walk down 142 flights of smoke-filled stairwell from the 71st floor resembled rush hour on the subway system. Through the muted comments and speculation, you could hear pipes snapping and the walls cracking. By the time we arrived at the teen floors, we were all wading in ankle deep water pouring through the walls and cascading down the stairs. The descent, for me took a little over an hour and aside from a few people falling on the slippery steps, the climb down, though challenging to my aging body was basically uneventful.


The evacuation route past the five-acre Plaza – where the fountain and outdoor con-certs were – was a scene from a Hollywood war motion picture set... debris – and bodies… bodies of every imaginable horrific appearance defying description, were strewn about not unlike the opening scenes from Tom Hank’s movie, Saving Private Ryan. The main lobby was a shambles. Chandeliers down; the marble walls in broken piles on the floor; the giant directional signage dangling from the ceilings; all the windows broken, the revolving doors broken and off kilter and the elevator doors all blown out. We walked through water pouring out of the ceiling like Niagara Falls, and sloshed through the darkened Mall in shin-deep water.


I cut out of the line of evacuating masses and waded to Tower Two. My destination was to get to the Command Center located in one of the basements under the tower to help my best friend, the Security Director for the World Trade Center. Try as I may, I was unable to get below so I walked through the lobby looking for another way down. It looked like New York City had been uninhabited for 20 years... not a soul in sight and the condition exactly like the main lobby of Tower One. A war zone. The eerie silence was deafening, save for the deep throated groaning, grinding sounds resonating, emanating from somewhere deep within the tower. The time was 9:56 A.M.


Failing in all my efforts to get below to help, my blistering feet have somehow dragged my aching body up and out of the buildings at Church Street. Looking up – I couldn't believe what my eyes were showing me! Both towers, the top thirds of which were fully engaged in flames! Debris, rubble, and wreckage all over the place. Thousands and thousands of people running in every direction. I hadn’t known about the second plane, but the sight made it obvious. My natural inclination is to go toward danger to provide what help I can, but this day a little voice in my head said, “Walk east.” And like the good soldier that Valley Forge Military Academy & College trained me to be, I obeyed the order. I got a quarter-block east when I felt the earth undulating under my feet, turned to look back toward the volcanic rumbling roar and witnessed the fall of Tower Two. People are in an absolute panic. Everyone was racing away from the danger; running, arms flailing, screaming, wailing... The thought of the tower coming down upon us flashed through my numb mind, but where can you run to escape a quarter mile high structure?


I quickstep to the side of a building and tuck myself behind a concrete column for protection from all the flying shrapnel, and stampeding herd of people. The shrapnel passes and the little voice says, “Walk east.” As I step out from my protection, the stampeding panic is redoubled, and I see that incredible 800 foot high pyroclastic-like cloud of pulverized concrete, asbestoses, glass, sheet-rock and what not advancing on us all, like an avalanche through Donner Pass.


Walking quickly east – I refuse to be caught up in the stampeding panic - I test door after door, trying to get inside a building, but to no avail. All merchants have long since locked up and departed their premises. Then it hits, pushing us forward like the leading edge of a force five gale...! I took a deep breath the moment before, and the most amazing thing happened... The sound of running feet, the screaming, the wailing – all stopped. Suddenly I was standing alone in a desert… absolute silence reigned. And the vision was nothing but deep, dark grayness. My first thought was to hide from this nightmare. But it was too late... I was already caught. The stronger thought was to continue walking east. I didn’t know if I was going to be run down by a truck, trip over a curb, stomp on prostrate bodies, or what... just keep walking east was my mission. The grit, held in suspension by the tumultuous physics produced by the collapse, and thick as sand in a Sahara desert windstorm drifted around my eyelids and froze my eyes open. My already tortured body, in short order was screaming for oxygen... I had to take a breath... and... I don’t mind telling you, that this simple requirement was my only real moment of anxiety. There is no oxygen in a thick pyroclastic-like cloud of pulverized concrete, asbestoses, glass, sheetrock and what not. The consequences of attempting to inhale resulted in a double column of impacted grit blocking all pathways through the nose. Opening my mouth to inhale only compounded the situation. The grit—so dry, by comparison made Death Valley dirt seem absolutely thirst quenching—immediately collected in all pores, and instantly absorbed any remaining moisture, swelling the tongue and cinching the esophagus. I truly thought that my time had come to go to my greater reward...


Well... Needless to say, I made it. My experience was nothing compared to many of my colleagues – and the fortunate tens of thousands who safely made it out. I can count over four-dozen friends and associates who paid the highest price to help countless thousands get down and out of harms way, including my best friend, Douglas Karpiloff, the Security Director for the World Trade Center. Many brave and selfless acts of courage were performed that day. I have dozens and dozens of first hand accounts of individual experiences..


Part Two : One Year Later - Recollections

My responsibilities within The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey include the security of what remains of the 16-acres of the World Trade Center property, or, as dubbed by the media, "Ground Zero." There is a full day of memorial ceremonies scheduled at the site today, culminating with a visit from President Bush. Combined with the convening of the United Nations General Assembly, a Congressional Session in Federal Hall, the presence of 68 Heads of State, and other assorted media events, you can well imagine that those of us answerable for the safety and security of our citizens will not get much rest this day.


6:00 AM

Working the phones in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), six 54-inch wide plasma-screen televisions and two large TV projections are covering the major broadcast channels. The ceremonies officially begin at the World Trade Center at 8:30 AM, and we are keeping watch to respond to any untoward security issues in the New York City metropolitan area this day. All the television stations are replaying what instantly became known as, 9.11. As each image advances across the screens, memories and emotions from a year ago immediately come to the fore, as if this date a year ago is today. It’s curious—the events feel like today and yesterday, and forever ago, as well as if they never happened at all… but of course we all know they did. Looking around the Operations Center I see grown men, tears shamelessly rolling down their cheeks, recalling their individual circumstances that incredible morning. John P., the Director of the Office of Operations & Emergency Management, trapped with five other passengers in a plummeting elevator, enters the EOC. He is making his rounds consoling each person, giant bear hugs inquiring as to the disposition of each individual in the room. Victor G., my friend and associate is sitting next to me answering incoming calls. He was on the 22nd floor looking up at Tower Two when it came crashing down upon him in Tower One. Toni W. standing at the podium was then Chief of Police of the World Trade Center. He herded civilians to safety as the fireballs, roiling through the lobby came barreling down upon them.


The telephones in the Command Center ring again—there is a container ship in New York harbor with unusually high readings of radiation. Federal agents have boarded and are taking it twelve miles out into the Atlantic for further investigation…


8:30 AM
One year ago this time... From the south windows of my office on the 71st floor of Tower One, I am sitting at my desk looking out across a beautifully crystal clear New York Harbor skyline to Sandy Hook, NJ and beyond. Sipping my normal morning 20-ounce cup of coffee, I am preparing for a scheduled 10:00 AM meeting on the 77th floor.


8:45 AM
I check my watch because my boss and friend, Bob B. has yet to arrive. When he is late, he usually arrives about this time and I suspect he is in the elevators, on his way up. I take another sip of coffee and continue my preparations for a meeting that has the promise of a new beginning for me at The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.


8:46 AM
The Tower snaps south. Springing back north, people standing or walking are thrown off balance, some falling to the floor. The simultaneous roar of a freight train over an old railroad trestle, amplified a hundred times accompanied the staggering, sickening sway of the Tower. I remember kicking back from the windows as a huge fireball sizzled down from above, exploding right outside my office. It’s a miracle that the windows didn’t shatter. Everything happened so suddenly and violently, and the enormity such, that it must have been at this point that my mind began to go into survival mode.


The events of those short five seconds of my life have indelibly imbued themselves forever into my memory, such that similar sounds and vibrations felt and heard today immediately spring to life the temporary reliving of that experience. A shaking office floor or bridge will do it. A specific sound of a jet spooling up engines, or the sound of an express train going over an old railroad trestle, that will do it!


I remember seeing Whitney B., one of our consultants from BAH, staring down at me not three feet distant. And as that magnificently beautiful morning disappeared in the blizzard of paper and debris sailing down past the windows, obscuring all visibility I instantly concluded that the only plausible explanation for this nightmare is that an aircraft had somehow, inexplicably driven into the upper tower.


8:53 AM
Having gone to the men’s room to take care of the 20-ounces of recently consumed coffee, and after returning to my office to retrieve the CD backups of Bob B’s two-year project, I entered Stairwell A with the intent to head up to the upper portions of the Tower to provide what help I can.


I remember that my first thought, as I sloshed through the water-soaked carpets in the core of the building, was to go up to help… that, that fireball did not bode well… Water was pouring through the freight elevator doors, smoke was evident and the floor was uncharacteristically empty. I think I was the last person off the 71st floor.


The stairwells are crammed with people descending from the upper tower. I can’t go up, so I turn around, say a quick silent prayer asking my Lord for assistance to have sufficient strength to get down, and begin what, unknown to any of us at that time, is our final day and journey to The World Trade Center complex as we knew it. I remember how calm and orderly the descent in the stairwells was… and how smoky… accompanied occasionally with the snapping sounds of tortured pipes and walls stressed beyond endurance. From time-to-time I would stop to offer assistance—words of encouragement—to the elderly taking a breather on the landings. Round and round and round we descended in an endless spiral. I vividly remember getting into the teen floors, and water pouring through the walls and cascading down the stairs. I stopped, rolled up my suit trousers to my knees and considered that I had, just that morning put on a new pair of Florsheim wing tip shoes to begin breaking in. It’s a bizaare thought now, taking precautions to protect my suit trousers from a little water...


The folks I have spoken to this past year have commented on how calm everyone was in all six stairwells during the decent and evacuation. I attribute this in large part to the fact that no one below the 92nd or 84th floor in Tower Two—with the exception of those that actually witnessed the Boeing 767 drive into the floors above them, and left immediately and observed the melting, hanging flesh of the burn victims—had any idea of the extent of the disaster that was at hand, unfolding directly above us. Many of the employees were veterans of the February 1993 bombing, and that experience trained most, but not all to immediately vacate the Towers. The other and perhaps greater factor for the calmness was that divine providence intervened and held everyone’s emotions at bay.


9:50 AM
We exit onto the concourse level, security personnel asking what floor we came from. I step out of the line of evacuees and walk up to the north windows. My body is aching, throbbing from the climb down, my mind already numbing. I observe incredible debris… and bodies strewn about, some leaning against the very window through which I am staring. I remember just looking—as if I am sitting in the comfort of my home watching a television drama. But this is no movie. As surreal as it appears, I walk to the east windows and look out across the Plaza, and the sight is exponentially more horrifying. And, as if by magic, a new body suddenly appears, accompanied by what sounds like a shotgun, the windows dripping red. But I am too numb to have any reaction… or feel any emotion. My only thought at this point is to get to the Operation Command Center located under Tower Two to help my long-time friend of 36-years and the World Trade Center Security Director, Doug Karpiloff. I drag my body down through the decimated main lobby, through a waterfall from the Mall ceiling, and wade the darkened Mall corridor through 75 yards of ankle-deep water to Tower Two.


I have no active memory of seeing the bodies fall, but from time-to-time as I am saying my nightly prayers, I see a body—a man—free-falling past me, eyes meeting, turning to pulp upon contact… My other shocking impressions are of the utter devastation of the main lobby: elevator doors smashed and mangled, marble walls in broken piles on the floor, as were the chandeliers, and those huge plate glass windows and revolving doors, shattered… I had no comprehension at the time of what could have caused this degree of destruction.


9:55 AM
Unsuccessful in my attempt to get into the basement of Tower Two—firefighters and police officers tell me to wait until equipment is brought out of the stairs—I become extraordinarily impatient and antsy, and after a minute or so turn on my heel and stomp into the main lobby. I am appalled at the devastation, remembering how eerily deserted it is and wonder why I don’t see anyone evacuating. And I can hear the low-throated groaning, grinding sounds of the building in its death-throws—though I didn’t know this at the time. I walk the 200-foot length of the lobby and turn back into the flooded, darkened Mall.


9:58 AM
I find myself exiting the buildings at Church Street and remember standing in the middle of the road, looking up with a hazy realization of how critical the predicament is. I can’t believe what I am seeing. I utter no words, my mind thinks no profanities. I just stare, uncomprehendingly at the unbelievable sight of the tops of both Towers completely engulfed in smoke and flames. The vast numbers of people, thousands, and thousands of them in the streets, mouths’ gaping, was mind-boggling. I forged my way through the crowds to get to the Plaza, strewn with debris and dozens of bodies, where I knew that I could be of service in some way. Walking toward the Plaza, as I came adjacent to Fulton Street a little voice in my head commanded, “Walk east.” Obeying the order, I left-flanked, pivoting 90-degrees on the ball of my right foot, stepping off with my left I didn’t miss beat. I remember looking down at the street and seeing trails of blood in little blotches about three feet apart and wondered what was the cause. After walking about seven paces, the earthquake began, and the thousands upon thousands of people panicking as Tower Two began to collapse. I turned to watch. For the briefest moment I had a fear of the Tower falling down upon us… and as I realized that there was no way to escape a quarter-mile high building, a calm settled over me as I accepted whatever fate was due. As I quickly removed myself from the streaming hordes of panic, I noticed ladies high-healed shoes, and men’s loafers flying through the air. Now barefooted, they were stepping on debris, running for their lives on bleeding feet.


My first thought when the sounds of ten thousand people began screaming, and as they bolted and blindly ran, was to get out of the way! Get out of the torrent of panic. I matched my speed to theirs, angled toward the Millennium Hotel and quickly tucked my body behind a support column of the loading dock. That column protected me not only from the panicking hordes, but also from the flying shrapnel as it went catapulting by.


Once again, the events of those short twelve seconds of my life have permanently engraved themselves into my memory, where similar sounds and vibrations immediately reawaken the vivid experience of Tower Two collapsing. Certain vibrations from low rumbling, loud clapping thunder… that will do it!

It’s curious, but for about a month afterward I had an enormous guilt that I had escaped Tower Two’s collapse. I had made such a concerted effort to get into the sub-grade—the basements—to assist my friend in the Operations Control Center, and was so abysmally unsuccessful, that I escaped to live… and my friend(s) remained to die. But, I am happy to report that, that guilt feeling has long since dissipated


9:59 AM
I have a particularly vivid memory of that 800-plus-foot high tidal wave of dark broiling pulverized concrete barreling down upon me. This was an emotion… not knowing its degree of solidity or the chances of survival, with the full knowledge that there was no escaping this new nightmare. In seconds, it hit. The overpressure pushes me firmly east and the light of day turned instantly to black. The grit pounding, grinding against exposed flesh, I remember that my eyelids would no longer blink. Testing my vision I raised my hand, palm touching my nose. Nothing. Nothing but blackness. I felt like what a caged fox must feel trying to escape… turning one way then another hoping to find a hole to get through back to familiar ground. But there was no such find. My memory begins to muddle concerning what happened around this point. But, it is somewhere around this time that I have a moment of anxiety. I suppose no one knows until it actually happens, and then perhaps not even then, but I was pretty certain that it was my time to go meet my maker… Though I don’t have a fear of death, suffocating would not be my first choice in the manner of passing, and the prospect was not a pleasant one. I couldn’t breath; my eyes were frozen open; it is pitch black and all I can hear is the drifting particles of concrete crashing into my ears; grit is impacted up my nostrils; throat dry, tongue swollen… and that little voice, again instructing me to, “Walk east.” I obey. The next thing I know, I see a little fuzzy movement off to my right, stagger towards it and walk through a door into the back kitchen of a deli. Someone hands me a bottle of liquid… and a sip later I can breathe again. It seems that for the second or third time that morning, I have again escaped the sickle’s swath of the Grim Reaper.


I remember a women, hysterical… and on the telephone! I quickly go over to her, place my hand on her shoulder and speak quietly, softly, consoling her. She hangs up and I grip the phone still in her hand. I am not the only one who realized that there was a working telephone. Putting on my glasses, I reach into my pocket to get the telephone number of friends in midtown, and carefully and deliberately—I know I will only have one chance to do this right—I dial the number. Lee C. answers. I identify myself, state my safe condition and ask that she telephone my wife, Sarah, and mother to inform them of my safe extraction. She asked if I knew anything about Doug Karpiloff. I informed her that I did not.


The most amazing transformation took place, one that to this day I have yet to figure out. The stampeding cacophonous mayhem of the panicking hoards of thousands and thousands of people instantly became mute the second that tidal wave hit us. I understand why there was total silence. No one could breathe. What I don’t understand is where everyone went. When I began to walk east in the pitch-blackness of what felt for certain was the end of earth, I was convinced that I was going to trip over prostate bodies and that people were going to blindly run into me. Neither happened.

Since 9.11, my responsibilities have frequently taken me to the World Trade Center site. Just a month ago, I had time to fix the spot where I was when Tower Two collapsed and that tidal wave of pulverized concrete and building contents engulfed me. And I found the little deli which miraculously materialized and gave me safe harbor… over four blocks away and a little north of my starting point! To this day, I have no memory of walking or running or dragging this old carcass over four blocks


10:20 AM
After the passing of the worst of the storm, I left the little deli sanctuary, hesitating, considered returning to the World Trade Center, stepped to the right and began the long exodus further east, eventually finding myself heading north on the Bowery. All of lower Manhattan was evacuating and walking north. The further north I walked the more of an oddity I became. I was the only person wearing a dark blue suit that looked like it had been tumbled through a cement factory. Pasty faced, plastered whitish hair, pale white “suede shoes,” ashen white plastered briefcase. What a sight! As people recognized my predicament for what it was, they offered me their cell phones to call home. Many approached and offered condolences and wished me well. On three occasions, video crews stopped me and asked for interviews. I complied, thinking how calmly I answered their questions. It wasn’t until months later that I realized that I had been in shock. I continued the trek north. I thought of a cab or bus, but there was no traffic whatsoever in the streets of lower Manhattan, and eventually when there was, it was a parking lot.


My body began screaming in protest. The Charlie-horses began in both calves and worked themselves up the rear of my legs. The blisters on my feet from breaking in the new shoes, about to burst, I had to stop. I staggered into a convenience store, found the bottled water, struggled to the counter and the cashier said, “That’s a buck.” He had the look of a man who, with monotonous regularity had to deal with the Bowery bums. And that day, I must have looked like any other itinerant vagrant. Right hand thrashing about my pocket, it extracted a buck, laid it on the counter, and I limped back out onto the street. Leaning against the brick wall, I gulped the water, rested a moment, and eventually dragged my exhausted carcass to the midtown home of the friends I had telephoned from that life-saving deli. Lee C. answered the door, and with a look of relief—she thought I might have been caught in the second collapse, Tower One—she gave me the once-over and immediately began laughing, so comical was the sight. Uncontrollable, I joined her contagious laughter, the relief swelling over me.


Many times over the past year, I have attempted to track down those video crews who interviewed me. I would love to have a photograph of what I looked like, but I have so far been unsuccessful in my quest.


Part Three : Introspection

From time-to-time over the years, we have all been counseled to, Live each day as if it were your last. The events of 9.11 have brought home a truer essence of that advise for me. How would we like to be remembered if we died today, is perhaps part of it. If I die today, is my life in order? Nearly 3,000 individuals went to work, content in the groove of their daily routines. Triple and quadruple this number for immediate family. The 9.11 experience has put into perspective the insignificant pettiness that some, thoughtlessly and selfishly interject into their relationships. If we knew we were to die today, would we exercise our acid tongue? Would we be so thoughtlessly selfish as to completely ignore the considerations of others?


But then we must consider, what is important? Is our petty little business—a business that can be lost in the time it takes to snap your fingers—more significant than a lifelong friendship with our loving companion and family? Is the climb to the top so important to warrant sweeping aside everyone who gets in the way? Remember, we meet the same people going down that we met on the way up…


With a thoughtful consideration toward others, and a cooperation with understanding, how much better would our relationships be with spouse, family, friends and associates alike. And how much better would we be in our businesses and sports and hobbies, et cetera. What a practical concept. A concept that need not wait for a mental awakening such as 9.11 to be considered, and applied. The key is to realize the urgency of our situation and to sustain the effort to exercise right thought, right emotion, and right action. It is an active decision to mean business and to sustain the efforts to apply right principles.


This brings to mind another admonition, perhaps a first cousin to the counsel above; don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. We’ve all heard of “missed opportunities.”


A couple of personal examples: 1.) The husband of an older friend of ours went to Boston Chicken to pick up a quick take-out dinner for his wife and himself. An hour later, she was in the intensive care unit saying her good byes. Leaving the store, he was hit by a car and critically injured. 2.) Sunday evening my sister and brother-in-law had just returned home from dinner with another couple. Bob, recently turned 50, turned on the television as his wife went to wash up. Announcing that her favorite show was about to begin, my sister returned to find that Bob had died on the spot. 3.) A friend, aged 48 was sitting in his favorite chair, reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. His daughter in the other room heard the book fall to the floor. When he didn’t respond to her inquiries, she investigated and found that he had died, reading his favorite book in his favorite lounge chair. 4.) A close friend involved in a fender-bender on his return home from work, exited his car and approached the State Trooper’s car. The Trooper’s car was rear-ended and both cars erupted in an explosion, instantly killing the State Trooper, the other driver and my close friend.


There may be no tomorrow! We will have missed another opportunity. And after such close encounters that the experiences of that morning brought, and of the three-thousand, losing over 50 that I counted as friends, associates and acquaintances, tomorrow may be too late…


There is another aspect—if I were to die today, would I be able to look my Lord and Master squarely in the eye, and report the “have nots?” “I have not lied, I have not cheated, I have not stolen, etc. There is not on all the earth a sorrowful one, a sinful one, a suffering one due to any act of mine.” This is a sobering thought… (Borrowed from the Journey of Ani in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.) This summarizes the epitome of right conduct for each individual. The sustained effort of which will eventually eliminate all suffering.


I have talked with many folks who extricated themselves from some facet of horror that day. And many have had a change of heart, reassessing their values… realizing that their relationships with family and friends have priority over their businesses. I can’t speak for the folks in the other corporations and businesses directly involved that day, but there is a definite change for the better with some of the people in the one I am involved with. For the most part, they are more considerate, more understanding, more tolerant and more supportive of one another… without the sacrifice of good business practices.


We have also heard the maxim Time heals all wounds. Yes, it does. But the time it takes depends in LARGE part on common sense and the degree of effort the individual makes to assist the healing. The greater the right effort, the quicker the healing. Friends and loved ones pass on. The manner of their passing more dramatic for some as recent events have demonstrated. They have left earth. Let the healing process take place.


Would you take a rusty nail and stir it around an open, bleeding wound? Certainly not. Yet, that is exactly what we are doing when we refuse to let a loved one who has passed on, pass on… Stirring that rusty nail is pointing fingers at “wrongful death,” blaming the architects, the fire insulation, the narrow stairwells, the truss design, the public address announcements, the airlines, the emergency plan, the two-way radios, suing the building owners, et cetera, etc. ad-nauseaum.


Death happens exactly at the time and in the manner it is supposed to happen. Don’t the religious churchgoers read their bibles? People the world over, praise their Lord, all wise, all knowing. But take a loved one away… and what happened to His omnipotent wisdom? Isn’t it perhaps a little hypercritical to praise the Lord when life is good, and then bring into question His wisdom when difficulty descends? Isn’t it conceivably that the good, the joys, the successes, as well as the difficulties in our lives, which includes death and the manner of one’s death, is also a part of His plan? Is not death as natural a part of life as life itself?


Perhaps a better expenditure of our time and effort would be the attempt to find out exactly what happens at death, and where the individual goes. A person with a basic knowledge of first-aid knows to stop the bleeding, clean the wound, dress the injury, bandage, and restrict activity. The healing time is considerably less with a right knowledge of how to treat the wound. Wouldn’t the same principle apply to knowing exactly what happens at death? I say a categorical, “Yes.”


All things physical, everything of earth is evanescent, temporary – including the body in which each of us occupy. No example has brought this concept home more clearly in recent history than the attack on the World Trade Center. In less than two hours (103 minutes), 35 years of planning, building, improving, and updating a worldwide symbol of national strength, prosperity and future potential was totally and utterly destroyed, as were businesses and the lives of nearly 3,000 individuals.

If we are all born, live a life, work, sire children and eventually die, it begs the age-old question, What is life all about? What is the purpose? -- Why is there suffering? Why is there seeming inequality of opportunity? Why are children born blind? Why do some people die [horrible deaths] in the prime of life? What is the explanation for genius? Why is one man successful, another a failure who is honest? And a host of other similar questions regarding the mysteries of life. Life on this earth is obviously important or else we wouldn’t be here. Logic tells me there is an answer to these questions. Answers that are as clear and understandable to you and me as the answer to, five plus five equals ten.


Applying sound, practical instructions do pay dividends. Don’t Panic; Stay Calm; Walk, Don’t Run, et cetera. How often in our lives have we read these signs, and been given these admonishments? Jody, a woman I know got caught up in the panic of the herds of people stampeding away from the collapse. She fell and got trampled. No one helped her up, but she made it. She finally got to 42nd Street—a couple of miles—before she realized that she had been walking on a broken ankle! Just look at the photographs of the blind panic and consider how much personal difficulty could have been avoided had the individuals thought more clearly and acted with more control, more discipline. The harsh emotional and mental repercussions would be significantly lessened. I should think that this would make for an interesting study by the behavioral scientists and psychologists.


This has been a wonderful opportunity to think further on one’s mortality, on what happens at death. I am appalled at how many articles there were in the public press on “Where was God?” or, “God was looking the other way that morning.” or, “Why did God allow so many innocent people to die?”

Let me take a moment to put the September 11th World Trade Center incident into perspective. Nearly 3,000 people dying in less than two hours, in the way in which they did is a shock. Yet, approximately 2-1/2 million people die in the United States each year; that is over six thousand, eight hundred (6,800) individual deaths each and every day in this country alone. Five individual deaths each minute… or 2,300 people in an eight-hour working day. 2,798 people dying at the World Trade Center that morning is less than half the daily average. People are dying all around us. It’s just not as obvious to us as it was that morning.

Since death will eventually knock on your door and mine, why aren’t we asking the question, “What happens at death?” Are we interested? Wouldn’t a clear, calm, reasonable, logical, sane answer take away the uncertainty and paralyzing fear associated with the subject?

People talk about “Faith.” But what is better than faith? Knowledge; Exact knowledge of what happens, where we go, and what the conditions are… Do you have “faith” that your vacation will go well, even though you don’t know when or where you are going, and are not interested in finding out, or what the requirements are to get there?

The “Have Faith” gestures we are frequently given by the clergy when asking this question are not fair to either them—the leaders of their flocks—or to you or me who sincerely desire real answers... answers of substance. The clergy should be the very fount of knowledge, providing bread to their congregations hungry for answers, rather than stones. Wouldn’t a more honest answer to our questions regarding the conditions of life, if they don’t know the answers be, “I don’t know?” That 92-year-old Cardinal who, on his deathbed told those around him that he did not know if there would be a welcoming God; he did not know what happened at death, and he had no illusions; that he would just have to wait and see... Though forthright, he was a little late in the disclosure of his ignorance on the subject. Nor does the answer, which I have been given, “You would not understand the answer,” bode well with me. It’s an insult to our intelligence, not to mention that it is incorrect. We would understand if we were sincerely interested in seeking and knowing the answers.


Everyone has been talking about the unfairness of death, but isn’t there more to all this? What about the concept that people don’t die until it is their time to die? Scripture makes reference to this. How about all the people—30,000 plus—that safely made it out of the Towers? And how do you explain all the people that were late that morning? I have heard too many first-hand stories, mine not withstanding, of the unusual circumstances that kept individuals away—or took them away from their desks before the Boeing 767s plowed into their offices, and the fireballs blasted down the elevator shafts and through the lobbies—to pass it all off as good or bad “luck.”


Some of my responsibilities since January 1, 2002 have taken me to the World Trade Center site a number of times each week. It was difficult at first, reliving that morning each visit; pointing first here… then there, reviewing where we were, and when in the sequence of events. But then, if we believe in a Supreme Deity, doesn’t it logically follow that everything is under control… even the apparent chaos and what we mortals label a disaster?


Is it possible that we are not seeing the whole picture? If you walked into the middle of a movie of which you knew nothing about, watched for one minute then left, would it be a fair assumption to say that you had no idea what was happening, or why? You might even have cause to comment that the one-minute you watched was chaotic and unfair; perhaps even a disaster. However, if you had watched the movie from beginning to end, you would understand the underlying reasons why things (what you watched for one minute) happen. Isn’t it conceivable that this is what we are seeing in the short span of time we live? Only one minute of the whole story...? Again, is it possible that we are not seeing the whole picture…?


I have been working side-by-side with hundreds and hundreds of people that are coping—some better than others—with the effects of 9.11. I have heard some incredible stories; of near escapes, entrapments, caught in freefalling elevators, fireballs storming through the lobbies engulfing people, trapped in the Mall under the Plaza, incarcerated by that incredible cloud of debris, in the stairwells when the Tower collapsed; stories from breaking into automobiles and stealing boats to being caught up in the animal instinct of stampeding panic… I have heard remarkable stories of why people were not at their desks… and why they were… changing their mind at the last minute; mental urges to get a donut, of missed trains, forgotten pagers, and wrong coffee orders, to missing subway stops and exiting early to enjoy the beautiful day. I have heard stories of courage and compassion, and of selfless assistance to others though they put their own lives into harms way. I have heard the stories of those who recount that God’s angels led them from the pitch black of the collapse to the safety of the outdoors. I know individuals who took months to return to work, and those who after having returned, left again and have yet to come back. And I have heard the stories that have not made the public press; the theft and greed and cowardess of those who were less than “heroic.”


To think that I have been unaffected by my experiences and the after-effects would not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I was fooling myself in the early months following 9.11, thinking that I was thinking clearly and acting calmly and rationally. I soon became aware that there were days when my thinking was labored, like molasses flowing on a cold February morning in Vermont’s maple sugar country. I had extreme difficulty retaining simple facts in my day-to-day business and private life. I would set off to tell someone something, and twenty minutes later would return having no idea what I had set off to accomplish. I became disinterested in documenting details; didn’t know where to file papers and let material pile up on my desk, tossing it out after a few weeks, looking at it, not knowing what it was for. My head would fill up with dizziness, and there were times I thought I would have to lay on the floor to keep from falling. At frequent intervals it feels like there is a giant beach towel stuffed between my brain, and my eyes, ears and mouth, so long the time it takes me to comprehend and respond to simple questions.


I was fully aware that this was not my pre-9.11 condition, and wondered how long I could continue to function before the folks I worked for—and with—found me out for the inept employee that I thought I was becoming. But then I would consider that each of them had suffered through the same, similar or worse experiences than I that morning...


My sinuses ran continuously, everything in my body ached, a little irritating cough refused to go away, and I was peeing 15 to 20 times daily. My associates affectionately gave me the moniker, “The Whiz Kid.” And certain sounds and vibrations set me off. As bad as all this sounds on paper, no one but my wife, Sarah, and perhaps my friend and associate, Vic, knows that I was (am) having this internal struggle … I think…

But I am not alone. People were breaking out in boils, had sores that would not heal, incessant itching, black mucus in their coughing, respiratory difficulties, et cetera. The doctors have had to open a whole new chapter on the physical problems people have been showing up with, that were directly involved in 9.11.

One of the little pleasures I have when I am at the World Trade Center site is to schedule enough time to walk the lines of tourists. I enjoy approaching the young ones, lads of ten, or twelve and asking them if they have any questions. In no time at all, I’ve spent a half hour fielding questions from people from all over the world. I enjoy giving them a little extra something to take home with them from their visit to New York City, and the effort they made to find their way downtown to visit the World Trade Center.


To say that the events of 9.11 were an amazing and extraordinary experience would be an understatement. Opportunities have presented themselves to me that otherwise would not be present. I have spoken to dozens and dozens of people about their thoughts on what happens after death. I have been invited to speak about my experiences and to present my thoughts on some of the answers to the mysteries of life. This has been an opportunity to gain strength, to reevaluate previous efforts, to assist others to be strong.


Had I known what was in store for me that day, I would not have awakened to my 5:30 AM alarm. But after having experienced that incredible morning, and survived the collapses and all the chaos that followed—I don’t know how to express this, but—I would have been extremely displeased to have missed any aspect of that remarkable morning, and the days and months that followed…










Erik Ronningen lives in Mamaroneck, NY.


He was married to Sarah for thirty-eight years.


I have been lucky enough to have known Erik for a few years and was privileged to have had the chance to have chatted with Sarah once or twice before she died.


Erik's reflections on 9/11 are some of the most powerful words on the subject I have ever read and remain online more than four years after we first published his essay. - HN




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