I was standing in line at Walmart waiting my turn to pay and thinking about what I was going to make for dinner that night. I stepped up to pay for my items and the cashier said, "Well I guess it is pretty much the beginning of the end times." I looked around to see if she was talking to someone else then turned back and said, "I'm sorry?" "You know, the bombs, World Trade Center?" she replied, "The beginning of the end." She handed me my receipt and I walked out the front door and to my car, completely confused. "That was weird" I said to myself as I buckled my seat belt and started the car. I pulled out of the parking lot and began to drive to work as I heard something mentioned about the World Trade Center on the radio. I turned up the volume and heard a report that a plane had hit one of the towers and thought back to what the cashier had said. Didn't the cashier say "bomb"? I walked in the lobby of my office building and pulled a large television cart to the center of the room and switched it on. My boss walked out of her office just in time for us both to see the second plane hit. Every muscle in my body froze as I stood there in horror unable to comprehend what I had just seen. My boss immediately turned and grabbed a phone to call the college president and I reached to my side and picked up the phone to call my husband, the church's youth minister, and when he answered all I could muster was "Turn on the television."
It has been five years since the twin towers fell but in many ways I feel closer to that day now than I did when it happened. I had only been married two months and four days on 9/11 and as the wife of a youth minister and the office manager for the college counseling center, I felt the impact of the tragic events in a very real way, but they weren't personal to me. I mourned the loss of lives and the change in our society but I wasn't able to comprehend the effects that day would have on my life for another four years.
'Gina Sztejnberg's life was one of journeys. Born in Poland to a Jewish couple who had fled to Russia to escape the Holocaust, and then returned to Poland, she came as a girl to the United States in the early 1960's.
At Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, she renewed acquaintances with a boy from her village, Michael Sztejnberg (pronounced Steinberg). They eventually married, settled in Ridgewood, N.J., and became inseparable traveling companions, even commuting together to their jobs. Every day, Mr. Sztejnberg, 55, a senior vice president with J. P. Morgan in Lower Manhattan, drove Mrs. Sztejnberg, 52, a database architect consultant, to the World Trade Center, where she worked on a project for Marsh & McLennan on the 96th floor of the north tower.' *
As I think back to the morning of September 11th, I realize that I can't remember anything my husband and I said to each other before leaving for work. Gina and Michael Sztejnberg shared a commuter train to work on September 11, 2001, as they did every morning and my guess is they had no idea it would be their last time to complete their morning routine together. I can't help but wonder what their last words to each other were before Gina headed up to the 96th floor of Tower One and Micheal continued on to work. How would their morning have been different if they had known it was their last? The day began as any other ordinary day but it was a day that would forever change families, friends and a country.
My husband is no longer a youth minister; he is a firefighter, and every day on the job affords him dangers that I can't even imagine. The difference between today and every day before September 11, 2001 is that I realize any day could be the last day. I am not paralyzed by the realization or even afraid; I am changed. I love deeper, I forgive quicker, I compliment generously and I appreciate in a way that I've never known. I will probably never fully comprehend the loss from that day but I can learn from it and be grateful that God gave me the opportunity to appreciate a life that I have taken for granted. May God continue to bring forth blessings from the tragedies of that horrific day.
To read more about the life of Gina Sztejnberg click here.
You can view the memorials of all 2,996 victims of September 11, 2001 by visiting this website. Let's remember.
*Profile originally published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 14, 2001