In Remembrance of a Perfect Stranger

We have been drenched with rain for days. But, ten years ago, in the midst of hurricane season, it was an extraordinarily clear and sunny day. If you live or work in NYC, you know how infrequent these days are when the sky is a perfect cerulean blue -- crisp, clean, a pop-up book back-drop to the city's skyline. I was sitting on the Hoboken Ferry, en route to the World Financial Center for meetings, transitioning off one project, moving on to another and meeting a former colleague for breakfast at the Greenhouse Restaurant in the World Trade Center. As normal, I was running late.

As the ferry docked on the west side of the Winter Garden, we heard the engine of a plane, too low, too close and then the sudden sound of it slamming into the first tower. And, debris, swirling, swirling in that beautiful sky. We thought it was paper and office bits -- and it was -- but it was so much more, we would later learn.

All of us ferry passengers, gathered on the plaza outside of Morans, a restaurant in the World Financial Center, staring at the smoldering building. Cell phones were useless, the towers cut off from the impact. The crowd swelled when traders at the NY Mercantile Exchange came out to see. Snippets of conversations -- what is air traffic control doing? What's wrong with the plane? -- were accompanied by sirens, lots of sirens.

I couldn't move in that crowd; a woman and I banded together, attempting to free ourselves. It was then we noticed another woman chanting, "I've got to go home" marching zombie-like directly towards us. Her entire front red and glistening, stained with blood. She had been walking on the narrow stretch between the Trade Center plaza and World Financial Center when she was showered with falling glass shards. We got her into the medical office at the NY Mercantile Exchange building and were stepping out when the second plane struck the second tower. The crowd, considerably larger now, broke into pandemonium, fleeing down the path toward the Hudson River, onto an arriving ferry.

In the melee, I was knocked over but someone, I don't know who, picked me up and carried me over his shoulder, sprinting for the ferry. We were one of the last ones on that ferry. Zigzagging up the Hudson, the ferry captain awaited instruction: should we head to Hoboken or go further north? Where was the next plane going to hit? The ferry cabin was chaotic: passengers, who were arriving and not allowed to get off, demanding to know what happened. All of us, who were fortunate enough to squeeze on, trying to explain what we saw. No one, of course, had any understanding or knowledge of what was happening or of the other planes in the other cities.

It was decided that we would dock in Hoboken and the ferry would return for more passengers who were desperate to flee.

I jumped on the first train out of Hoboken; I didn't care where it was heading as long as it was away from Manhattan. On the train, someone, maybe one of the Mercantile traders had a transistor radio. Somewhere in the swamps of Secaucus we learned that the Towers had crumbled and the train let out a collective cry. Mine was still buried deep. I was wondering if all of Manhattan was under siege or just downtown.

I arrived home a couple of hours later, safe and shaken but it wasn't until I heard the voicemail messages on my cell phone from my then husband and eldest daughter, who was 11, that the cries emerged. A perfect stranger had ensured I survived.

In the coming weeks, I would learn -- as many of us did -- of extraordinary acts of kindness, sacrifice and bravery and of the fierce, quiet determination to rebuild that is quintessentially American.

As we mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11 -- like each of the nine preceding anniversaries -- we will be exhorted to never forget this day. But, this year, I hope we choose to remember all those simple acts of kindness and sacrifice and quiet determination and not the fevered cries for vengeance and hate. It was, after all, vengeance and hate that brought those planes and death, sadness and devastation to us.