Dana Walden Chin’s 9/11 Story

I moved to New York City in May 2001. On September 11, I was working at Goldman Sachs in the 1 New York Plaza offices. Two interns from my alma matter had just arrived the day before and they were assigned to shadow me for the day. I remember the commotion when the first plane hit. I was in a friend's office and hustled back to mine to try to get more information about what was going on, then the second plane hit. I think I watched it from my office window but to be honest it is all a blur. It was so catastrophic that everyone just started to move, without even knowing where they were moving to; not yet in a panic, but you could feel the tension building. 

9/11 Memorial - Photo by Dana Walden Chin
Photo: Dana Walden Chin

We all walked down the stairs and streamed out into the street; thousands of us. I remember that there were folks walking toward the towers to see what was happening, but I remember being afraid of the large crowds and with two shell shocked interns in tow I wanted to put some distance between us and the masses of people crowding the area.  We made our way through the Fulton Fish Market and somehow ended up by the FDR. Our pace started to quicken as the events started to sink in, but I never would have guessed that the towers would fall. 

A coworker who lived in the lower east side was with us so we all decided to head to his place. Once we left the highway and started to make our way back into the center of the city via Delancey Street, the towers fell. It was the most surreal thing I have ever witnessed. I remember thinking I was in the movie Independence Day, when the ships position themselves over buildings in NY and LA and they level the cities. 

9/11 Memorial - Photo by Dana Walden Chin
Photo: Dana Walden Chin

It was total chaos after that... we all ran and you could start to see the dust take over the city. By the time we made it to my friend’s apartment, I was completely shaken and that condition didn’t improve when we turned on the news. We learned about a “missing plane” and the attacks at the Pentagon. 

I struggled to get in contact with my parents. As a father of a 3-year-old,  I now cringe at ever having to encounter a day where my son is in a situation even remotely approximating my experience. Nearly all cell service was down so I found a pay phone to call my mother and let her know I was OK. Later on, the first call I was able to receive on my cell phone was from an old high school friend who responded to my “Hello?” with "ARE YOU ALIVE?!" - we chuckle a bit about that conversation to this day. 

9/11 Memorial - Photo by Dana Walden Chin
Photo: Dana Walden Chin

At some point we all decided to leave my coworker’s apartment. It took me the rest of the day to get home (on the upper east side) because I was afraid of passing the UN or Grand Central. Avoiding landmarks made my trip much, much longer, perhaps, than it had to be.

I always told myself that 9/11 was a thing I witnessed and didn’t particularly think that it overwhelmingly shaped or defined me. I realize now that was a coping mechanism of sorts. Now,  20 years later, as a parent who had to navigate the horror of COVID-19 with a very young son,  I think I have realized the obvious: My experience on 9/11 set in motion a massive shift in the way I saw the world. 

 

9/11 Memorial - Photo by Dana Walden Chin
Just as this generation of college graduates has to face the harsh reality of a world that will not continue in a linear, predictable fashion- I was forced to confront mortality at a time when I got my first taste of independence and was supposed to feel the most invincible- the most alive.

20 years later I can see clearly that 9/11/2001 was a tremendous turning point in my life - forcing me to take a hard look at how precious time is and how important it is to spend it with those you love, but also to do the work you love. 

Wishing everyone peace today,

Dana





1 comment


  • frank chin

    On September 11, 2001, was like any other day (so I thought) as I was teaching my elementary art classes in Maine. During that time, my principal pulled me over and told me that a plane hit a building in Manhattan. She knew that my son, Dana was working there. My heart sank and my stomach was tied into a knot. I immediately called my son but with no answer. Then I called my wife, Patricia, and she too was in shock with disbelief. Patricia would try to call Dana since I had another class to teach. After many hours which seem like an eternity, Dana finally called my wife and that he was okay….” whew!!!!!!” From that day on, our son never did talk too much about this traumatic event until now, when I have read his moving article. It was very sobering he reflected on this event and how Dana transitioned as a father/parent changed his outlook in life with renewed hope for the future. I honor all the first responders, all the lives that are lost, and all those who survived, and grateful that our son is still with us today.


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