“For Some Reason”…. What 9/11 Taught Me About Grace and Mercy

The phrase “For Some Reason” is likely something you personally have said many a time. I realized, after 9/11, how many times I used it in relation to just that day. So much so that after I had started writing a book I noticed that phrase filled many paragraphs and I began to understand how those three words have shaped my entire life in depths I never imagined, and even brought me to the decisions I made on that very day. As the anticipation of yet another anniversary drawers near, For Some Reason, I have felt urged to share this piece of my life today.  The below post, written by someone who became randomly tied to my life, emphasizes my point even more:

On September 7, 2014, the following, written by Stephanie Zessos, appeared in the City Room section of The New York Times:

METROPOLITAN DIARY

A Sheet of Paper’s 9/11 Journey

By STEPHANIE ZESSOS

SEPTEMBER 7, 2014

911 sheet of paper                                       Photo Credit  Victor Kerlow

Dear Diary:

During the preview week of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, my partner, John, and I were standing at a case displaying a selection of pieces of paper from the World Trade Center that he had donated to the museum some years ago. After the towers collapsed, his roof on Warren Street in TriBeCa was covered in paper and debris. For some reason that he still can’t really explain, he put as much as he could into a plastic bag, and for years it sat on a high shelf in a closet until I suggested he donate it to the museum.

A woman standing close to the case suddenly said, “That’s my document!”

It was a spreadsheet she had created for her employer, the Port Authority, and there it was — having gone from her office, to being blown into the sky, into the streets, onto John’s roof, into a bag, on a shelf, and finally into the gloved hands of museum personnel, who carefully set it into this case for all time.

She and her husband, also a Port Authority employee, stunned, both laughed at the insane odds of seeing a piece of paper from her desk again. She told us, after we introduced ourselves and John explained what happened to her spreadsheet almost 13 years ago, “I didn’t go to work that day.”


IMG_20140518_163624_630 (1)museum case

(This is a link to that very document located on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Website)

 

The woman she is referring to is me, Phyllis. And that seemingly random sheet of paper holds an incredible depth of significance that I cannot even go into right now – it has a whole story of its own. It is more than just a journey of a simple sheet of paper. To me, I was viewing the journey of my life up to and including the moment I saw it in the case, and the sudden realization and understanding that I was exactly where I needed to be, doing exactly what God needed me to do. The laughter she described was not one of a hearty laugh, but more of a nervous laughter, the type one experiences when they are struck by the significance of a moment. Understand too, that not only was this piece of paper in this display case, but, For Some Reason, I was able to be in the museum, in this spot, at the very same time, on 5/18/2014, as were the people responsible for turning over this piece of paper to the museum. Out of all the days and times that we could have gone to the museum during this special opening Dedication Week (we had to pre-arrange a date and time for tickets months in advance), when family members, first responders, WTC tenant employees and local residents were allowed in 24 hours a day, we met these very people. And, out of ALL the tons of papers blown from the buildings that day, one I created, from a database I created, was positioned in this display case.

paper11 paper12

Yes, I didn’t go into work that day, it was a last minute decision on my part. My second home was the 72nd Floor of One World Trade Center. The first Tower struck and the last one to fall. It is NOT something I wear as a badge of honor, to say I wasn’t there. In many ways it is more a badge of humility or humbleness. I have many friends who escaped those buildings within moments of collapse. Some can tell you horrific stories and of struggles to get down the stairs, some who took the “Survivor Staircase” and others who went through the retail space section as Tower 2 fell and the percussion and wind tunnel affect blew them into walls and across floors. Some who unselfishly and heroically helped and saved others. I also know many who perished on that day. And I know far too many more who have scars, not of a physical nature, but from the pieces of them, their psyche, that were left behind that day, making them incomplete replicas of who they once were, altering their lives and actions still to this day. And, I even know of those who have recently lost loved ones from illness contracted from working at Ground Zero for months after the tragedy.

By writing this post I certainly DO NOT mean to offend anyone who lost a loved one that day, or who struggled to escape. In fact, what I try to do each day since then, and how I view things, is meant to honor all of those very same people. I do not walk through this life blindly or arrogantly. I try every day to walk humbly because I know it could have been different. If I feel, For Some Reason, that there is something that I can do, or say, or write, that can make a difference for someone, that it comes from a feeling of Grace or Mercy or Divine Urging, then I know I should follow through. It is actually why I created this website on which this article is posted. One article I wrote recently about the journey my dog went through battling a neurological illness has been read by thousands worldwide and I have been told has helped many other dogs walk again – and I simply felt, For Some Reason, the urging to write and share.

There are many like myself, who feel humbled and out of place in the presence of those who escaped, and with the knowledge of all who died. To use that phrase, “but for the Grace of God”, it could have been different – and that is what I live by and attempt to honor. Yes, I do believe in God, and yes, even though so many were killed and so many have been left behind to carry on, I do still believe because I have literally experienced God’s Grace and Mercy and have seen His movement in ways that has brought me to my knees. My story above, of the paper alone, to me, is evidence – for you, maybe it is just a series of amazing coincidences.

From tragedy has come a resilience of spirit and charity that has, in many ways, eclipsed the events of that day. The reach of goodness and kindness from organizations and people, created in memory of family members lost or to help themselves through personal pain, has been enormous. One only needs to look at something such as the Tunnel To Towers Foundation, started in memory of Firefighter Stephen Siller, to see good come from tragedy. His family didn’t crumble, they reached beyond their pain to do for others. In fact they wrote this in Stephen’s bio: “he grew up under the guiding philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, whose encouraging and inspirational phrase “while we have time, let us do good” were words that Stephen lived by.”

The 9/11 Tribute Museum and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum have many volunteers who give of their time in this same way. You can hear stories directly from people who “lived” in those buildings, because it wasn’t just a place of work, but of friendships and lives forever connected.  

Each day we are affected and touched by Grace and Mercy. We are the only ones who know that we may not be deserving of a gracious act, or a merciful touch or decision. And we will never know or understand if those extending that act of grace or mercy have felt directed, urged, by God to do so – but if they were, then even if you do not believe, you were indeed touched by the hand of God. On 9/11, as I watched the events unfold on TV, I literally screamed “Why am I not there?” because my friends, my family, were going through hell without me and I could do nothing. And maybe some would say – yes it should have been you instead of my loved one. I can’t argue that thought.

By not being there however, I was, and have been, able to fulfill a different purpose. I was one of the first to return to work and rebuild my business unit within the agency. (The Port Authority of NY & NJ built the WTC, so this wasn’t just an attack on the place we worked, to employees, this was Our Home, Our Family)  For Some Reason, just the Friday before 9/11, I backed up all of my immediate business unit data along with a computer program I created for our functions and happened to take it home with me, else it would have been destroyed on the servers within the building. I was able to get my unit back up and functioning, along with supplying current information to many other departments throughout the agency – and the spreadsheet file that produced that piece of paper, played a critical role. I had the ability to focus in a way others could not, considering their experiences. I made it easier for them to step back into their office function when they were ready to return after a few weeks of decompression. To give them back a semi sense of normalcy so they could move forward. And I was not alone in this task. Other people, at all levels throughout the agency were also able to function in this very same capacity because, For Some Reason, they were not in the buildings that day. We focused because we knew others could not any longer, or would not be able to immediately. And it was an honor and privilege to do that, to honor all that were lost that day. It was a sense of camaraderie that I had never experienced before, or since that point in time.

The other day my niece, while we were attending her sister’s wedding, reminded me of something I did to help her just shortly after 9/11. It enabled her to change the path of her life at a critical time and now because of it, she is a medical professional helping others. I completely forgot about it, but it warmed my heart and made me reflect on many things I have been able to do for others since that time. Including my marrying a gracious, generous and selfless man, who has supported my actions, and who, also, For Some Reason, was not yet in the building that day. It again brought me back to the thought that my “For Some Reason” had been used by God for much greater purpose. That doesn’t mean the people who perished had no purpose. It means that as long as we live for them, with the purpose to help and support others, they will never die. As long as the charities and organizations created because of 9/11 keep helping people, their lives will continue to affect others in a positive way.

As I stated earlier, I had begun to write in depth in a book about my experiences, my point of view of how, For Some Reason, I came to make a last minute decision not to go into work that day. This is a small excerpt from that book as it pertains to events of 9/11:

Monday came and I attended to my regular routine with going into the office. I commuted from Long Island at the time and for anyone who regularly takes mass transit into work you can probably understand what I mean by “routine”. Most big city commuters take the same train every day and then might transfer to the same subway or bus and make the same walk and possibly stop at the same coffee vendor or shop, maybe Dunkin Donuts or a bagel place. This “routine” can take you to the same place at the same time as others who have that same routine of their own. So much so that you end up waiting at the same elevator in the morning with the same people. My routine during this time period put me on the train platform in my hometown usually standing next to a couple that I had watched interact over the months, I think even years, as well as watching her pregnancy grow. Our routines meant I also would end up walking behind them while going all the way into the Trade Center. They would usually stop in the middle of the hall just before Tower One and kiss goodbye, then he would continue walking off to the side of Tower One and I would see her depart in the direction of Tower Two.

The day itself otherwise was fairly uneventful. That Monday however was the day for my regular BIG shopping trip for my aunt. My mother’s sister lived alone, my uncle passed years earlier, ironically on 9/11/86, and they did not have any children. She did not go out to any stores or even leave the house and, through choices she made in her own life and battling agoraphobia, relied solely on me at that point to get whatever groceries and other staples she needed. Due to many reasons, that big shopping trip meant usually going to two different groceries stores, also Costco, and perhaps a stop in KMart and maybe the book store to get her a new supply of novels. Since this “event” could be very time consuming I would normally leave work a little early so that I could avoid the crowds and regular rush and hit some stores before the roads got too bad.

While leaving the Trade Center that day I did something rather unusual. When you would go down to the main floor during an “off” hour it would be hard to imagine that thousands of people are in the buildings above you. It could be almost “eerily quiet” for lack of a better term. Like a school before the final bell rings. You could end up riding these huge elevators down to the lobby all by yourself instead of the probably 30 people at least who might normally get into one going up and/or down between the lobby and the 44th floor. This was one of those unique times. I think there was one other person on the elevator down and when the doors opened to the lobby it seemed desolate. For probably one of the only other times since I had started working there in August of 1993, I actually marveled at the beauty of this building from the inside. The majestic columns in the lobby, the terrazzo flooring and gigantic glass windows. I looked around in a kind of awe at Tower One and the retail area during the stroll down to the subway platform since there were no crowds to divert my attention and I knew I had plenty of time to make my trains. Little did I know that it was going to be my last good look at any of it, ever.

The following day, Tuesday, 9/11, I woke up to get ready for work as any other day, though after a long night of shopping and delivering groceries. My manager had been urging me to take back some compensatory time for the very long days I had been working all summer during a system upgrade project and, For Some Reason, I was reflecting on that urging that morning. I decided, based on the gorgeous day, that maybe I would just do some work from home in the morning and then take the rest of the day to visit a friend in NJ. I actually felt guilty, and, being a person who relies on contemplative prayer at times to direct my actions I actually asked God if it was ok – if I should be doing this today since I felt fine and even though my manager wanted me to take time off it really felt odd, For Some Reason. But since I resolved to do work in the morning anyway I felt content that it was a good thing to do.

At this time I lived in a two family house with my parents and my dad was my chauffeur in the mornings to the train station. As such – I realized I needed to let him know I wasn’t going to be needing that ride. I simply went downstairs and informed him that I wasn’t going in – didn’t give a reason though he thought maybe I wasn’t feeling well. I went back up to my apartment and decided to make breakfast and ready some things I was going to take with me on my trip to NJ later in the day.

After a little while I began to organize the work I was going to do at home and, still feeling guilty, figured I should probably check my office voicemail just in case there were any issues for which I needed to be in the office, absence of someone who worked under me, last minute meeting, etc.

Now we had three different ways to get to our voicemail. I tried the first, odd busy signal……called the second number, no answer at all…..very weird, dialed the third and the same thing. Totally strange, so much so that I literally joked to myself “what the Trade Center blew up since I can’t get my voicemail?”  Have you ever said something completely odd that made you shutter upon hearing yourself say it? This was the case for me and my next move was to turn on the television.

There before my eyes on TV was the smoking hole in Tower One – my building – my second home – the place where my “second family” was……. Within moments of the first attack I knew what had happened. I then darted down the stairs trying to scream “a plane hit the trade center” repeatedly. I ran past my father walking out of the bathroom and he had no clue what I was saying (hated wearing his hearing aids) and my mother followed me into the living room as I frantically tried to figure out how to turn on the TV and cable box with two different remotes continuing to scream the same thing over again while now shaking violently. (and at that moment I actually thought how I must apologize to my mother for getting confused trying to use the two remotes as I was failing miserably myself during this rush of emotion).  My parents then comprehended what I was saying as there on TV was evidence of my ranting. 

Just as we were focused on this scene, we all thought somehow we were watching them hit “replay” on the event when we suddenly saw a flash of explosion and debris falling – only to then grasp it was the second impact on Tower Two. At this point, For Some Uncontrollable Reason, I began spouting “why am I not there?, why am I not there?” – over and over.  My mother was trying to calm me, but that feeling of guilt from earlier in the morning about choosing today to stay home came on again in a flood of emotions. My friends were in that building, those buildings, and I couldn’t even rationally grasp what floors exactly were involved or what they could possibly be experiencing. I felt as though I had abandoned them in that hell and for what? Not because I was sick but because, For Some Reason, I picked that day to take back time.

Suddenly the phone rang and broke through this tumult of emotion. I heard my father answer and say the words “Phyllis is home – she is right here with mom and I”. It was surreal in a way to hear those words – that is the first time I realized that some people out there actually thought I might be there – might care about me being in the middle of all of that as I personally was taking mental inventory and agonizing over the people I knew and where they might be. I literally was going through a list of people and trying to figure out based on time where they might be, if they were in the office yet or not. ……Well Ed usually doesn’t get in till just after 9 so he should be ok, Joe is out at a funeral today, Mike always gets in around 9, Carmen too, Mary Lou is off, but what about Sue, and Peg, and Tammy who worked on the 82nd floor instead of 72, Jane, Laurie, Terri, Marjorie, the list kept going on and on and I kept trying to determine what floors were directly involved – trying to count the floors in relation to the outline of the plane wings in the building in relation to the mechanical rooms that I knew were certain floors.

When I heard my dad talking and it sunk in I decided to go up to my apartment since I didn’t have any of my phones with me, house or cell. (This was 2001 but basic cell phones did exist along with pagers, no smart phones back then) What if someone was trying to call me? By that time I already had a few calls to my cell phone from friends wondering – mostly just “where are you?” – “are you ok?” They were calm – not really too much panic in their voices – but then it became obvious they were also a controlled tone in a way. I knew I had to call them back and let them know even as I myself could not stop shaking nor could quell the enormous empty yet heavy feeling in my chest.

I talked for an extensive period of time with the friend, Angela, I was going to visit that day in NJ – a former co-worker in these buildings we now watched burning on TV. This friendship blossomed in my life only 2 short years before this day, as a result of that same computer system for which I was involved in an upgrade project that summer. It arrived at the time in my life when I experienced tremendous change and growth of spirit – a “Grace from God” one could easily say. While on the phone with her we experienced the collapse of Tower Two together – the first tower to fall – both of us just too numb to speak. We had no words after that and decided to hang up as we tried to individually deal with what we were experiencing.

The rest of that day all I can remember is being on my knees in grief and the numbest feeling I have ever experienced in my life. I did try to contact others, to find out if they were ok any way I could. I remember calling a relative of one friend, introducing myself and apologizing for calling so late, but I was wondering if he could tell me if Peg and her husband were ok – and yes they were. I also called and left a message on another friend’s home answering machine. As I did I wondered if perhaps I was leaving a message that only her husband would hear, who also worked in WTC1 but on a lower floor, she worked on 82. Could I be leaving a message only to find out that she perished and he survived? So I, like my friends left for me, tried to control the tone of my voice and message so as not to add to his grief if she was not with him. Around 10pm that night, Tammy called me back and we both broke down.

Above I wrote about how many of us have a “routine” when we commute to work. That routine would become the basis for my understanding that I would likely not have come home that day. The couple I described above, who would kiss and part ways, would be forever separated. She was killed in Tower 2 along with her Unborn Baby. He did survive as I assume he may have worked in the Financial Center. Their memory will always impact my life.

As I stated, I would often meet up with the same people at the elevator in WTC1 on my way up to the 44th Floor to transfer to the elevator to 72. They came via different modes of transportation from different locations, but our routines placed us at the same point, at the same time. One was the man who hired me at the agency, and one young man worked for me at that time. As stories began to come out after we all began working together again I learned the fate of some that would take that particular elevator with me. The young man who worked for me was one of 3 people standing at the front of the elevator as the doors opened on 44. In that moment the jet had hit the building sending jet fuel down the elevator shafts. He, as well as the man who hired me and one other woman were the only 3 blown off the elevator as the doors had opened and then they closed and all others on the elevator perished. Those elevators could hold up to at least 30 people at a time and since I wasn’t really a morning talker, especially because I didn’t yet have a cup of coffee, I always stood at the back, last one in, to avoid conversation. In the main lobby, the elevator doors were blown off as fireballs exited the elevators and managed to engulf a woman I knew who would later succumb to her injuries. The documentary that was made by the French filmmakers about the firefighters who responded, intentionally avoided showing that side of the lobby in Tower One when they entered. I can only imagine what the scene may have looked like based upon that knowledge.

Can I know for absolute certainty that I indeed would have been in that elevator or right in front of those doors as they blew out at that time?  No.  Only that, For Some Reason, I made a last minute decision not to go into work that day.  And only that, For Some Reason, a piece of paper that I created, sits in a museum, and I can tell you about its story.

 

Peace to ALL who are forever affected by this day,

Phyllis Esnes Varga

 

 

“Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than me.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

 

9/11 Memorial & Museum Logo           The Stories of 9/11 From Those Who Were There

 

The Current World Trade Center site as of 4-19-18. 

WTC-4-19-18

 

 

 

 

One thought on ““For Some Reason”…. What 9/11 Taught Me About Grace and Mercy

  1. Margaret Zampini

    Amazing Phyllis. I am at a loss for words reading your account and about the surviving spreadsheet. Will never read the words “For Some Reason” quite the same.

    God Bless.

    Margaret Zampini

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s