It is a unique experience to research history that happened in your own lifetime. My memories of 9/11 are vague, but I do remember it. To be an objective storyteller, when the video and audio of that day are so vivid and depict an event that shaped so much of the America I grew up in, is not an easy feat. My research of 9/11 led me to know more about that day and that event than I ever wanted to.
There is a harsh reality of darkness that pervades 9/11 and the attacks tied to it. I will readily admit that the necessary sources I had to read and/or watch often left me with a heaviness in my heart. There is no way to look at 9/11 and not feel the darkness of that day, to not relive the fear and pain of so many. The ages of the victims ranged from two years old to over eighty. No one was left untouched by the events of that day.
So as I looked to write "That September Day," I took on the challenge of telling the experience of that day. I knew I wanted it based in New York and I knew I wanted my main character to be related to a firefighter, as they were the emergency personnel most immediately impacted by the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Having Tyrell's father as a firefighter added another layer of personal grief and fear that was real for far too many people that day. Tyrell as a character was rather easy to develop in that he was still young enough to be idealistic, but old enough to comprehend what was happening. Once I discovered the reality of a few schools sitting only a block or two away from the Twin Towers, Tyrell's storyline developed naturally.
One oddity of working with an event as well known as 9/11 is trying to dig into the initial reactions before the information was widely accessible. The fact that Tyrell's teacher, Mr. Jenkins, first announces a bomb went off in the first tower is an accurate representation of the lack of information everyone had, as very few people saw the first plane strike. There was no reason to expect anything, so no one was watching. Using old news network footage helped me understand the minute-by-minute assessment of information, home videos taken by New York residents assisted greatly as well.
Reliving that morning over and over again for days while I was writing was hard. When you surround yourself in darkness and with heavy subjects, no matter how necessary in this case, it takes its toll.
So it was of great relief when my research extended to what happened immediately after the attacks. A Mr. Rogers quote came to mind:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
As I read about hundreds of boats that came to the aid of everyone stranded on Manhattan, this quote became a reality. Those boat captains did not have to answer the Coast Guard's open call for assistance. They did not have to risk themselves by sailing toward what would become known as "Ground Zero." But they did, to help someone else. This revelation helped break up the harsh weight my research had created and soon another shimmer of light came to my attention.
St. Paul's Chapel sits directly across from the World Trade Center and miraculously suffered no physical damage during the events of 9/11. After that day it became the hub of life for the emergency personnel working at Ground Zero. At St. Paul's they could find food, a place to sleep between shifts, and a bit of peace with live music. Chiropractors, massage therapists, and podiatrists tended to the emergency workers' physical aches and pains. The efforts of these volunteers allowed aid to reach 3,000 emergency personnel in the three months immediately following the attack.
It is stories like this that clear the gloom of darkness. So as you read Tyrell's story do not turn away from the darkness. To do so is to ignore the suffering and sacrifice experienced that September day. Instead, face the darkness and find the shimmers of light hidden within. They are always there if you look for them.