today in black history

February 25, 2024

Scholar, civil rights advocate and federal judge Leon Higginbotham, Jr. is born on this date in 1928 in Trenton, New Jersey.

Not Earthly Bound

POSTED: September 10, 2011, 12:00 am

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My mind races back to my childhood, to the day that my godmother, Aunt Charlotte, knowing my fascination with architecture and New York City, took me to a construction site in lower Manhattan. Standing on my toes and peering through the holes in the fence surrounding the area, the buzz of activity below street level came into view. Soon, a sign on the fence proclaimed, two towers, the tallest buildings in the world, would stand and scrape the sky. I could not imagine a structure that could touch the sky, and envisioned the towers piercing the clouds and extending into heaven.

My fascination with the World Trade Center continued as an adult. I made several trips to the observation deck and would take in the majesty of the sweeping views; feeling a certain sense of peace and serenity believing that I was in God’s embrace. Though I would see some people recoil when they looked out the floor to ceiling windows, my first thought when the elevator opened would be to get to the glass wall and press my face up against it and look down. It was simply amazing and breathtaking. The view moved me to join the World Trade Center Club at Windows on the World, the restaurant with majestic views in the North Tower. Months before that dreadful September day ten years ago I hosted several dozen friends and colleagues for a dinner at the club. I took great pleasure in seeing the awe on some of the faces of my guests as they peered out the windows, seeing the fascination that I experienced many years before.

The morning of September 11, 2011 my work was interrupted by the voice of a reporter on a television in my office describing a horrific plane crash at one of the World Trade Center towers. As I wheeled my chair around to see the screen, the gaping hole in the tower filled me with a sense of dread. My previous work for an airline told me that only a commercial jetliner could create such an impact zone, and that on such a crisp, clear morning there was no conceivable way an aircraft could hit the tower by accident. I called my wife in her office in Manhattan and told her she needed to leave the city immediately; her office was blocks from the Empire State Building and I feared that iconic symbol would be next. I had not finished talking to her when the second jet hit the other tower on live television. She left her office and quickly made her way to Penn Station and caught one of the last trains that left the city.

While en route to pick her up in Newark, New Jersey the towers were in full view from the vantage point of the road I was travelling, and I was keeping abreast of developments on the news on the car radio. It was a maddening scene, as fear was etched on the faces of normally subdued professionals who were rushing to the waiting cars of significant others. We gave a ride to a woman my wife had met on the train; one of thousands of such stranger encounters that day. After I picked my wife up and started to make our way back home to pick up our daughter from day care, the towers were no longer visible in the rear view of my side mirror. The sorrowful and mournful voice of the newscaster on the radio announced that the towers had completely collapsed. There was silence in the car. It was difficult for me to process, thinking back to my childhood visit to the construction site many years before, the visits to the tower observation deck and the dinner there I had not long before hosted.

The news seemed to get worse by the minute. Two of the parents of a child at the daycare center my daughter attended worked in the Trade Center complex, and a neighbor down the street did not make it home for hours. Seeing the carnage on the television my thoughts immediately shifted to the faces of workers at the World Trade Center Club. They were gone, anyone who was on those top floors never stood a chance. My heart sunk. Weeks after the attack Michael Lomonaco, the head chef at Windows on the World, sent out a letter to the Trade Center club members, informing us of the many workers that died on September 11. His life had been spared because he was in the lower level mall of the complex when the jet struck the tower. I have kept that letter and the club’s last holiday gift from 2010 as my remembrance of those employees.

On the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack my heart is with the thousands of family members who approach the day not from the perspective of a national tragedy but from the well of personal loss. Dreams never realized and hopes crushed; the victims of 9/11 leave behind wives, husbands, daughters and sons for who no memorial can erase the pain. There is a word of comfort that I can offer though. Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. I saw the towers scrape the sky, their majestic forms piercing the clouds and rising into heaven. The towers of the World Trade Center are no longer earthly bound and neither are those who perished that day.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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