The blue sky was rapidly filling up with columns of black and gray smoke. My gaze fixated on the gash on the side of the building, which seemed to be bleeding. Horrified, my eyes were glued to the skyline. My mind couldn’t process the reality I was facing, and the buzz in the CNN newsroom seemed to rise and fall by the second. As I was looking out the window, the second World Trade Center started to fall.
Covering September 11, 2001 for CNN as a field producer was a life-changing event for me. Even though I was in the thick of things, you didn’t have to be there to feel the impact of what happened that crisp, clear September day. Back home in Arizona, my parents were horrified, but downright confident about our country, which comforted me when I felt the world falling apart.
While I was, at times, reduced to a pile of tears, my father, an artist, showed his feelings in a completely different way. He was so affected, so furious about what had happened, that he needed to express himself. Charcoal in hand, he started to draw out his emotions. One canvas turned into another and another, until he had five canvases across, 20 feet long, drawn out. His paintbrush flew across the tightly stretched surface, bringing depth and power into a once blank area. Overwhelmed with the need to make a statement, he dropped everything he was doing and painted for a month solid.
The painting is as shocking as the day itself. I asked my dad what was he thinking.
“I was angry at the futility and at the destruction of innocent people,” he said. “What immediately comes to mind was Picasso’s ‘Guernica.’ He too was angry at the Fascists, just like I was furious with the terrorists.”
The painting is filled with symbols, so vivid: it silences voices and seems to bring out sentiment. In the center of the painting is the American flag being raised, showing the hope of the American people, and the coming together of a nation. The enormous canvas shows hands reaching frantically up out of the rubble of the fallen towers. The time of the attack is illustrated by watches, and wedding rings show the love lost, and families ripped apart because of this tragedy.
I have images of Sept 11, 2001 etched into my being. But I didn’t understand how my father expressed everything I felt so vividly.
“The horrific images were all over the place,” he explained, “stories of the firemen, of the victims’ families, and all the courage of the American people.”
Did he plan what he would paint? Not according to my dad.
“I sit in front of the canvas and work; my emotions pour out through the paintbrush. It’s not something I can plan,” he said. “This was the reality around me and I put the images together into a solid body of work.”
September 11, 2001 was a tragic day. Until now, I had never written about what I saw and how I felt, as it would always leave me in tears, and truthfully, I prefer to focus on fun. My father had been reluctant to show this canvas, not really wanting to put his heart on his sleeve for the greater public. It’s been seven years since that life-changing day. I spoke to my Dad and we decided we would both share a bit of our experiences together, with words and images to honor the day and the people who were lost.