Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Survivor's Story: Life after 9/11 Comes with Obligations

By Greg Trevor

When the moment finally came – after nearly 10 years of waiting – I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t move.

I was falling asleep on the night of May 1, 2011, when my wife, Allison, walked into our bedroom, tapped me on the shoulder and said: “The president is about to go on TV. They got bin Laden and he’s dead.”

“Thank God,” I replied. I tried to get out of bed but couldn’t. The death of bin Laden brought back so many painful memories from surviving the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

I remembered standing behind my desk on the 68th floor of Tower One when I was knocked nearly to the floor by the impact of the first plane slamming into the building. As we fled the tower, my coworkers and I were trapped in a smoky stairwell a few floors from freedom. We escaped the building 11 minutes before it collapsed.

I felt relief that the world was rid of bin Laden – but rage that it took so long to bring him to justice.
Allison went back downstairs and turned up the sound, so I could hear how President Obama’s team had finally finished the job that his predecessor had left undone.

When the president praised the courage of the Navy SEALs who captured and killed bin Laden, I thought about my equally courageous coworkers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – both police and civilians – who had sacrificed their lives on 9/11 to save countless others.

I also recalled a moment on that same bed, a few nights after the September 11 attacks, when I struggled to explain to our 5-year-old son, Gabe, why an evil man named bin Laden had killed so many of Daddy’s friends.

“The important thing is, Mommy and Daddy are safe, and you and your brother are safe,” I told Gabe. “Do you feel safe?” He nodded. Then I asked: “Do you feel scared?” He nodded again.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I feel scared, too. We can be scared together.”

As the world marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11, millions are no doubt revisiting the emotions they felt in the moments that followed the terrorist attacks.

For our family, these feelings are never far away.

I’m still in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. A bright blue sky can still trigger flashbacks.
Even now I wonder: Why did I survive when nearly 3,000 innocent people lost their lives that day?
I think about the elderly Ecuadoran women I met at the wedding of her daughter, a family friend, a few weeks after 9/11. She burst into tears when we were introduced. Then she hugged me as tightly as I’ve ever been hugged, saying over and over in Spanish: “Vida nueva” – “new life.”

If I was, in fact, given a new life, it comes with at least two obligations.

First, to serve as a witness to the events of September 11, no matter how painful that might be – to remind anyone willing to listen that the hundreds of uniformed personnel and civilians who sacrificed their lives did not die in vain. The heroes who ran into the towers, and the heroes who remained in the towers to help others escape, contributed to the successful evacuation of an estimated 25,000 people from the Trade Center complex.

Second, to live up to their memory by trying to be the best husband, father, friend, and coworker that I can be.

 As a reminder, I keep three items in my Rutgers office – a memorial flag that flew at the World Trade Center site after the attacks, a Port Authority Police patch and a photo of Police Captain Kathy Mazza. Kathy, the first woman commandant of the Port Authority Police Academy and one of the finest people I’ve ever known, led a group of officers into Tower One a few minutes after the first attack. Most of them, including Kathy, did not survive. She was the first female Port Authority Police officer killed in the line of duty.

I am grateful to all of the heroes of September 11 for every moment – both good and bad – that I have experienced over the past decade.

I cherish every second I get to spend with Allison; watching our boys grow up to be wonderful human beings; having the privilege of coaching dozens of outstanding young men and women in baseball, softball and basketball.

I was both honored and humbled to be part of the official delegation that rode the first Port Authority Trans-Hudson train back to the World Trade Center site in November 2003, more than two years after the attacks. The resumption of PATH service to Lower Manhattan – and the reopening of the Trade Center site to the public – remains a major milestone in the healing of the region.

We rode that day from Jersey City to Lower Manhattan on the same PATH train that was the last to carry people to safety from the World Trade Center on 9/11. As the train rumbled through the rebuilt tunnel under the Hudson River, I felt honored to be a small part of this triumph, and humbled to stand beside people from across the region who had worked so hard to restore a vital service that the terrorists had tried to take away.

Our lives are a mosaic of moments like these. Some are significant; most are relatively trivial. But every moment is precious.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events of Sept. 11, it is that each day we spend on this planet is a gift; every breath is a blessing.

It’s up to each of us to show that we are worthy of this gift.

 Greg Trevor, my husband, is executive editor of Rutgers Today, where this piece originally appeared.


  1. Thanks for your insight, Greg. We are grateful to have you here, a part of our lives, too. We are thankful for the many people who helped to save lives on that horrible day and we remember those who were lost.

  2. Thank you Greg and Allison for sharing your story. What a beautiful tribute to your fallen comrades.

    As a 3rd grade classroom teacher that day, I will never forget the fear I felt inside as I tried to remain calm and collected on the outside. I didn't quite know what was going on...but knew something was up with swarms of parents quickly arriving at the school to take their children home for the day.

    And yet, my fear and anxiety was nothing compared to yours on that day...or any day since.

    My sincerest heart-felt thoughts and prayers are with you and your family and your continued recovery from this tragic experience.

  3. Thanks so much for your very kind words. We really appreciate them.

  4. What an amazing witness you are to those survivors and to us that God can be seen through this tragedy. Thank you for your courage in writing this. God Bless you!

  5. Greg says "Thank you for taking the time to read this. It was painful to write but therapeutic. Thank you for your kind words."

  6. Allison, Beautiful post. Your family is so lucky and honorable for sharing your journey. Thank you for linking up your post. I hope others learn from your story.

  7. We all have our individual legacies to leave, to those who come after us. This testimony, to me, stands as a part of yours Greg. Thank you so much for sharing it with those of us, who only watched helplessly from afar as so many lives were being lost. Myself and my children look on that day as being stamped into our memories. Everything in the world changed after that, in so many ways.

    Ros, in the UK.

  8. Thank you for sharing the paini anid wisdom that comes from surviving tragedy.

  9. Awesome post. thank you for sharing your story! I wondered what you thought about the Bloomberg's "Memorial Service"? Here's a post with a link to his office:

    It aggravates me so much, I had to put my two cents in...

  10. @Thereserita: Thanks for reading. I don't care about the service; clergy never has been invited and neither have we.

    If people want a meaningful way to commemorate the day, they can find many many beautiful gestures. Friends are praying the rosary in a park in NYC tomorrow. My family is in a fundraising walk for Wounded Warriors, sponsored by our local ROTC chapter. So many gestures.

    If the uninvited just want publicity, well, that is a whole other story.

  11. My husband's brother was at 5 World Trade; along with his staff, he was escorted out by members of the NYFD who promptly ran back into the devastation. Like you and so many others who survived, my brother-in-law is still dealing with PTSD. You see, he looked back to shout thanks to the firefighter who led him to safety; he looked back to see that brave man lose his life from a falling object.

    Thank you for sharing this gift, this extraordinary tribute. Blessings to you and your precious family.

  12. Patty: Thank you for sharing that story. My husband Greg was very lucky; he saw no fallen or dead bodies during his escape. I will share your words with him tonight. I hope your brother-in-law is getting the treatment and care he needs. Blessings to you all.


  13. Allison, I waited until today to read this. Such a moving beautifully written and heart wrenching. Our prayers are with you and your family on this day.

  14. Thanks so much for sharing your story. You and your family are in my prayers.

  15. Thank you for sharing your story. It is the only one I saw from someone who was in the towers that day (outside of major news articles), since looking around for one this weekend.
    I was supposed to be in there, but a decision kept me away in Midtown. I wonder why/what if/how this time each year even though i wasn't in there...I can't imagine what it is like to have walked out of the mouth of the building minutes before the collapse.
    I am so sorry for the pain you faced, the loss of your friends, the addition of PTSD.
    But I am so grateful that you are here to share your voice. To remind us that there were so many survivors, so many people who were able to get home to their families and move forward in life. Because that, to me, is how we as the Good Guys win.

  16. This is such a beautiful and inspiring post. If we could all take away the positive lessons (and they are always there waiting for us) from any situation and put them to good use, our world would be a better place. All my best to you and your family.

  17. Alma: I will pass your kind words along to my husband. And I like your thinking!

  18. I came to your post through the Lightning Bug link. I wasn't far from you that day - in my office at just below Houston on 9th. In an odd twist, my mother was in the Pentagon so, as the Trade Center was collapsing, I was dialing and dialing the phone (and getting a busy signal). Luckily, she got home okay and I then (like you) had to refocus on getting through the next several months living in a disaster zone where none of us ever could relax. I rarely talk about 9/11 because I feel like it was yesterday in my head, but I wanted to just leave my note and agree that the greatest lesson I learned that day is to preserve that moment of clarity you have in a crisis, when you realize that you narrowly missed losing everything that REALLY mattered. Everything else is truly small stuff. It's enormously difficult to keep that feeling alive, and I am still striving - all these years later. Lovely post.

  19. @FF: Thanks for sharing this. My husband says we ALL are survivors of that day. The difference is in the details. Bless you.

  20. I was in university at the time and I will never forget the dread and horror that clenched my stomach as those images rolled over and over across our TV that morning. We knew we were seeing the beginning of a war and just because we weren't there or even Americans (Canada here) didn't mean we were safe.

    It's hard to think about the tragedy and loss of life that day, but it would be the ultimate disrespect not to remember and acknowledge our fellow humans. Thank you so much for writing about this - I can only imagine that it was difficult to share. Bless you and your family and your continued healing.

  21. God bless all our heroes, and thank you for posting this on the Lightning Bug.

  22. I know how that day made a lasting imprint on me half a continent away with no personal connections to the victims. I can not imagine the magnitude of the loss for your family. Peace and healing.

  23. I had always wanted a major event to occur in my lifetime so I could tell my children, "I remember exactly where I was when _______ happened" (like the death of JFK)... until the "event" actually occurred.

    God bless all of our marvelous heroes, their families and you, Greg & Allison. Greg, it is true that you are here for a reason.

  24. "If there is one lesson to be learned from the events of Sept. 11, it is that each day we spend on this planet is a gift; every breath is a blessing."

    Almost eleven years later, I often wonder if we have started taking gifts and blessings for granted. For most of us, September 11th is deeply engrained in our minds, we live with a pro-active attitude in preserving our freedoms. Will future generations look back to that day of absolute terror with a passive attitude, a quick glance at a reminiscent newscast before flipping to a different channel?

    Because of 9/11, our lives will never be the same here in the United States or anywhere else. The experiences we all shared that day, our fears and sorrow, should never be forgotten.

  25. I am in complete awe. Thank you so much for your continued courage as you offer hope and remembrance from that dark day in our nation's history. We will never forget.