Cindy Kong tells me that her first reaction when hearing that a plane had hit the World Trade Center was shock. “I never even thought that could happen. One building and then both buildings.”
September 11, 2001 her coworkers were all watching the news on their computers. Several people were on the phone with loved ones. Cindy’s first reaction, like many others’ on that day, was to call her spouse, a pastor at a church in Chinatown at the time. After being unable to reach Ben, she contacted the church and was told that Ben’s train had been stopped on 42nd street and that he was headed back home. Before leaving work to pick up her two sons, ages one and four, Cindy watched the first tower fall on the television in the lobby of Columbia University’s business building.
Accompanied by a colleague unable to return to her home in New Jersey, she walked to the daycare and found that inside “it was like nothing was different…They were all getting ready for their nap. The lights were off. It was really quiet and they were oblivious.” She recollects how it was clear that all the teachers and parents were thinking about the morning’s events, but no one wanted to talk about it in front of the children.
That day was the first time Cindy “really felt scared. Scared about security.” She stresses the word “ever” when telling me emphatically that “having been born here and grew up here, I never ever thought about there being war here or there being something bad that could happen.”
September 12, for many New Yorkers, was the uneasy first day of the resumption of their lives. Cindy and Ben stayed at home and accepted an invitation from other parents at the daycare to go to Central Park for a play date. While the parents exchanged their stories, in the background to the south were distinguishable plumes of smoke. Cindy recollects how one dad cried when remembering his clear view of the World Trade Center from his office in the Metlife building.
This past Thursday, September 8, 2011, while watching “Big Brother” with her husband and now eleven-year-old son Evan she felt a flash of her fear from ten years ago when the words “Breaking News” interrupted the program. After watching Mayor Bloomberg speak about the upcoming weekend and the heightened security alert, Evan began to feel nervous. Cindy tried to answer his questions and reassure him. “I was trying to explain to him, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll protect you no matter what and God will protect you no matter what.’” She admits to me that, “I think when it’s this real, sometimes that’s not good enough.”
She continues to hold on to two things she discovered as a result of 9/11. One, that the law enforcement and fire department has a “core good that you hope these professionals go into” these situations with. Two, that “when bad things happen [New York] can really pull together and that is something I think is remarkable.”