We Did Not Choose Our Fate That Day

Photo of Elizabeth Morton ’91My thoughts today are different from Sept. 11. What I remember is the same, but images and more information fill my mind. I saw people act in a way that only true crisis brings. The look, the feel, the smell of one single day, one that I now know could only come from a world-changing event. Firefighters, rescue workers, police officers, security guards[~]all doing their jobs, just as we were in One and Two World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m. on that beautiful, perfect fall day in New York City.

In my flight from the towers, I helped people who could not help themselves get down 40 flights of stairs to safety. We were one, all New Yorkers, no matter where we were from. I saw acts of courage and strength offset the sight of people dying with dignity and grace. We did not choose our fate that day; only God knew.

With four people per stair, shoulder to shoulder, 50 people both in front and back, my thoughts were of getting out of the building and taking as many people with me as possible. Fifty of the analysts that I’m responsible for were located at Lehman Brothers’ Jersey City, N.J., office that day. I thanked God, because with 50 more people to get out, we now recognize could have made a difference between life or death.

That day my body was flooded with adrenaline and also with something else. Never before had I been that close to death, and I was filled with a feeling of peace and love. My friends and family and their prayers were with me, providing comfort, support and strength so that I could help others.

My thoughts turned to my friend Sara Manley Harvey, whose wedding I just attended in August. She was on the 93rd floor, working for Fred Alger. I prayed she would make it, but in the end, she didn’t. I prayed for my friend Karen Fang on the 87th floor, who worked for Fiduciary, who did make it because she was at a conference. Eighty-seven of her co-workers were killed. I didn’t know that my coworker, Ira Zaslow, didn’t make it, nor did Mary Lou Hague, with whom I did volunteer work. She worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, making her one of the hundreds lost.

We passed firefighters in plain clothes coming up the stairs. The looks on their faces were of sheer bravery. I told them about a handicapped man on the landing of the 27th floor, thanked them, and told them how much I appreciated their being there; they replied, “We’re just doing our job.” I pray that man was rescued and that they got out. I wished that I was physically strong enough to take him down the stairs, but the best I could do was calm people down and make sure that everyone with me got out.

Since that day, I have spoken at memorial services, volunteer groups and employee assistance programs, and it reaffirms my purpose, which is now clearer than ever–to help and motivate others. Reclaim your life, live each day as if it was your last and you will never be disappointed.

My family and friends are doing well. With bruises on my legs, I went back to work on Sept. 17 in Jersey City, where most of our group has relocated. I will continue to spread a positive word and encourage people to move forward with their lives. Terrorism does not exist without terror. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said it best: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”