Silence and then a stranger
Date Submitted: 8/25/2017
I worked for a major insurance company, in a call center. We had varying shifts so that we would be available for a longer length of time for providers and members that would call with questions about their health claims or benefits. I was on the 9-6 that day (central time). So I had gotten my children to school and the sitter, and was back in bed for a bit before I would have to get around for work. I was watching the morning news show, and it was just chatter. Just noise and I wasn't paying close attention. A girl was talking and someone said that there was an accident at WTC. At first they speculated a small plane had accidentally flown into it. This caught my attention. As the speculation continued and the news was showing smoke billowing out of one of the towers, I watched another plane hit the other. From there on, it was like a nightmare. Another plane hit the pentagon. Planes were being landed everywhere. Anywhere. No one really knew what was going on. I knew I had to report to work. So I did. I walked into the office, to my desk, put on my headphone but to this day I do not remember how I did that. What I do remember is being terrified. Because we had no idea what was going to happen next. Our call center took calls from all over the world. It was rare to have a moment between calls and there were at least 50 of us in that center so it was always plenty loud. It was silent that morning. Noone was calling. Our boss told us that corporate said we had to keep on the phones. Business as usual. Many of us were angered. One of the ladies that worked there had a son visiting New York. Her husband worked there as well as a call center supervisor. Their son had told his mother that he and his wife, both young and on what was probably their first 'real' trip together, were going to visit WTC that morning. She couldn't contact him. There was no getting through to anyone in the Northeast USA let alone New York. She was allowed to go home at least. About a half hour into my shift my phone finally rang. I answered and it was an elderly lady inquiring about a claim that we had denied. She didn't understand why. I explained to her that it wasn't covered, when she started screaming at me. She screamed about how unfair it was. She screamed about unfair everything was. She screamed that our country was going to crap. And then she started to cry. She told me she was scared. She told me that she was originally from New York, and she had no idea what was going on, but that what they were saying on the news couldn't be true. 'You know?' She said. She told me that we should be loving each other. We should care about each other. That this wasn't right. And then she asked me a question. "What happens next?" It was the same question that I had. And I didn't know. I told her that we would have to trust that our government was doing all it could. That we just had to hang tight and hold on. She and I were silent for a bit. At least thirty seconds, because my phone was set up to click if it had been silent for more than 30 to remind me to speak, as a customer should not be left in silence. The customer could not hear it but we could. It clicked and I asked her if there was anything else I could do for her. She sniffled and said no. Then she apologized for screaming at me. I told her that it was ok, that it was understandable. I asked her if there was anything else I could do for her. She said no, and goodbye. I had no more calls that day until it was time to leave at 6. All in all we may have had a handful of calls between all of us. We sat in that call center, refreshing our internet. Someone had a radio and we played it. We waited for any news. Any at all. The more information we got the more we wanted. It was a truly terrible day. I know we now have a generation that probably doesn't remember anything about it, only what they have been told. I cannot express how terrifying it was. How horrible it was. I can tell you that on that day, even if you didn't live in New York, even if you had never been to New York, on that day, everyone in America was a New York citizen. Everyone in America mourned the Towers, the Pentagon, and that sad, sad spot in a field in Pennsylvania. I still cry when it rolls around to Sept 11 again. I think those of us that are old enough will do that for the rest of our lives. On that day, our president became our hero-didn't matter if you voted for him and it didn't matter what happened before or after. On that day, he was our pillar. I will always have thanks for that. We found out the next day that the young man and woman that went to visit the World Trade Center had been stuck on a subway underground near it. They had stopped the subway running when it happened, but they were fine. Our country changed that day. And it changed forever. We weren't babes in the woods then by any means, but we were shocked into realizing that our country could be attacked. Yes it could and did happen. And now, almost 16 years later, I look back at where we were and what is happening now, and I am even more sad. We don't seem to have learned what we needed to learn that day. Our country is more separated than ever. But if we just look back to that day and realize what we lost, and what we therefore could have gained, still CAN gain, we would realize that we have more in common than we don't. I wish us peace. I really do.
As America confronts these tragic circumstances, it is imperative that the situation is not compounded by expressions of religious or ethnic intolerance. The greatness of our nation rests on the exceptional diversity of religions, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds which characterize its people.
Statement of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights