It's the evening of September 11th and today I received this from Peter Turnley. Peter is simply one of the most humane and compassionate photographers you will ever meet. He has a real interest in people and a true love for the world. His ability to see the good in bad things is something he has cultivated for his entire distinguished career. —MJ
By Peter Turnley
Thirteen years ago, I encountered this scene, in the middle of the rubble of Ground Zero. Juxtaposed against the evil of that day, these many years later, I still remember the incredible gestures of decency, generosity, goodness, and kindness that I came across demonstrated by so many people—firemen, doctors, nurses, welders, construction workers, first responders—people who had showed up so quickly, all with families to care for and bills to pay, and yet so courageously were ready to put it all on the line to do the right thing.
I’ll never forget the nurse who stopped in the middle of the rubble of Ground Zero, seeing that I didn’t have a mask to protect me from toxic smoke, and said to me, "Baby, you don’t have a mask, please take mine." I didn’t accept her offer as she needed it as much as me, but I will never forget such gestures.
My heart goes out to people all over the world that suffer and have suffered from injustice, oppression, and that find themselves so unfairly in the middle of conflict. On this anniversary of 9/11, my heart would want so badly for the world everywhere to be in such a better place. I am in Paris tonight, far from New York, and far from so many people, friends, family, and loved ones. I send on the eve of this day, and every day, from the bottom of my heart, wishes of love and peace for all. And I recall what an elderly man said to me only a few weeks ago as we sat next to each other on a plane, "dignity, it is the honoring our common vulnerability, and valuing all human life, where we have a chance to go forward together." Good night and love.
Text and photo © 2014 by Peter Turnley, all rights reserved
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Benjamin Marks: "Thanks Peter, for that recollection, and for your hopes, which I echo. My memories of that day are vivid, despite the fact that I can't tell you a thing about the day before or a week later.
"I was living in NYC at the time and was on my way to work, on a bicycle of all things, when the first plane hit. Guy leans out of a truck window at 57th and Park where we were waiting for the light to change and says, 'a plane just hit the World Trade Center.' I figured it was a Cessna and a pilot with a heart attack or something. My office was on the 47th floor of a midtown building and from our south facing windows you could see the smoke. That's when I heard that it was no Cessna. My mother was in Central Park with my daughter and my mother-in-law, who was visiting from Kansas, and my wife were downtown shopping. They called me and said, 'Macy's is empty,' and I told them what happened. Called my father-in-law in Prairie Village and told them everyone was OK. At work, we all congregated around a television and that is when the second plane hit.
"I don't know whether folks remember the immense quantity of bad information on the air that day. There were reports that planes were unaccounted for over the Atlantic. There was a report that the a Treasury building in lower Manhattan had been hit. There were reports of planes headed for London. News reports were useless, but we were glued to them anyway.
"I remember that that afternoon skies were clear of planes over the island of Manhattan—a shocking absence at the time. The exception were F16's from Burlington; the Green Mountain Boys were flying patrol patterns over the city. I also remember the smell. You could smell the burning of the towers—that just plain wrong smell of office furniture, paint, steel, wires, insulation and concrete that comes from the scene of an urban fire. The ash would come later and sit on everything like a light hellish snow.
"By mid-day it was clear that we were in the middle of a major event. All public transportation in NYC was shut down. Phones lines were overloaded—the system was just never designed for everyone to be on it at once. Cell phones wouldn't work either. A bunch of us went over to the nearby Citicorp Center where the Red Cross had a blood donation clinic. We waited for hours before we were sent away. There were not that many wounded, as it turned out; just the dead and the survivors. And, ironically, so many folks showed up to donate blood that the facility had no way to refrigerate it all. So rather than waste the donors, they sent us away and asked that we try later in the week.
"The decision to bike to work (which on an ordinary day made me something of an oddball) worked out well that day. I had many co-workers who walked 5–10 miles to get home that day with no subway or bus service. And as I peddled home, that is what I saw: no cars on the streets, but the city full of walkers—all doggedly heading home as the day drew to a close."