Ten years ago, I was about 40 miles from NYC in Freehold, NJ, scheduled to make photographs of the staff at Centra State Hospital.  It was a beautiful day, and we pulled up and were greeted at the door by the news that a plane had hit a building in New York.  Information was still sketchy at that point, but as folks watched things unfold on TV and we all tried to wrap our heads around what was going on, it became clear that hospital staff photos were VERY low on the priority list for the day.  In fact, the hospital basically locked down and was on alert for the possibility of the arrival of casualties.  By the time the second plane hit, it was clear this was no accident, and the events taking place on every TV in the building had a surreal feeling to them.  What brought clarity to the moment, for me, was when we went to the top floor of the building, looked off to the north and saw the crystal clear blue sky pierced on its edge by a dirty grey cloud jetting off to the east, a harbinger of the new world in which we would find ourselves.  It was as if someone had pierced the skin of an engorged and infected earth, releasing the vile guts in a stream of death.  The impression it made on me was powerful, but at the time I could not imagine what folks were going through beneath that cloud at that very moment.

Soon after, we received word that a plane had gone down in western Pennsylvania, and I instantly felt the need to find a cell phone signal and talk to my mother, who at the time lived in Indiana, PA.  Of course, she was OK, but my mind continued to swirl, trying to comprehend what this crazy thing meant for me, my family, my country, my world.

I don’t recall just how long we stayed at the hospital that day, but I remember the feeling I had when overhearing some folks talk in the hotel bar that evening who had been on the 34th floor of one of the towers.  At first, it was awe, but then became fear at the thought of whatever it was they might be contaminated with.  Fear is a powerful emotion and, while I was able to shake it off as being absurd in that barroom, it was something we needed to become accustomed to, as it was to be exploited over the next few years for ill cause.

The next morning we arrived again at the hospital to learn that perhaps a dozen or so folks had found their way out of New York City and required treatment at the hospital.  While it was not the mass casualty scene we had feared, folks still were not ready to engage in anything as frivolous as staff photos.  So we made our way back to Richmond.

Normally, our ride home would take us through Baltimore and Washington D.C.  Knowing that would not be a good idea, we hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and headed west to my old stomping ground of Carlisle where we caught route 81 South.  That drive was punctuated by silence, and the wonder of another crystal clear blue sky, unscathed by any jet stream save for one- a single, high altitude representation of the high alert status on which we find ourselves to this day.  After about 7 hours on highways filled as much with police cars as any other, I was never happier to be home.

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