Alan Ocampo's Personal Website

September 11, 2011

So much has happened since that day.

The next few days presented an emotional roller coaster. It was overwhelming to find out how many people cared - my family, friends, and many people I didn’t even know. I felt so much love and support. I was grateful to be alive, to get another chance at life. I also felt a lot of guilt, watching news reports of those who lost their lives - the people who, like me, had to be there because of their job or some daily obligation, but didn’t make it; but most specially, the selfless individuals - the firemen, the police, and other public servants - who made the ultimate sacrifice to help people like me get out of that harrowing situation. I felt guilty that I survived and they didn’t. I cried when pictures of the rescue workers were shown in the news; I felt grief, guilt, and gratefulness, all at the same time.

My client (I was a consultant) called me back to work about two weeks after. On my first day back, I requested to end my assignment as I wanted to find a job that is much closer to home, as this experience had caused me to reevaluate my priorities. My manager convinced me to stay and see if I can make my decision later when things calm down. I agreed. It was good to find out that the company had taken steps to help everyone slowly get back to normal - they offered counseling, and there was even free catered lunch for a few weeks. I worked for the company for the next few months, until February the next year, but I don’t think I ever got back to normal. For one thing, I always felt paranoid passing the trash cans in the subway; I imagined them to contain a “package” that was ready to cause me harm.

Time has helped heal the wounds of my 9/11 experience; and fortunately for me, the wounds are not very deep. I still have not gotten over the jumpy feeling I get when I hear a fire alarm; yes, hearing them even on fire drills makes me uneasy. I also still find it hard to watch a show about 9/11 (I would usually tune in only for a few seconds, if at all).

Indeed, 9/11 changed my life, but I am very lucky. Every year since, I have two days - a birthday, and a second birthday - to think about life and its meaning. No doubt, 9/11 has become a significant event in my life, but in the years that have passed, there have been, and hopefully will be, many other significant events --- the birth of a daughter, the birth of a son, the passing of a loved one.

I drove home this afternoon with a heavy heart as a ‘what-if’ thought crossed my mind --- What if I lost my life on 9/11? I imagined my wife raising our eldest daughter without me, going to parent-teacher conferences, planning birthdays, graduations, and other events, big and small, all by herself; and there would be no younger daughter to light up the room with her smile and sweet innocence; and there would be no son, animated as can be, to liven up every family situation. I am really, really blessed that the ‘what-if’ is not a ‘what-is’.

I can still remember most of 9/11 like it just happened. I always feel infinitely grateful whenever I reflect upon my experience. I also feel deep sadness for the people who died and the loved ones they left behind. I know that 9/11 is a very meaningful day for many of us, and for our country as a whole. I am hopeful that each day that passes helps us move on, that our 9/11 wounds turn into scars, sooner than later.

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