The Day I Didn't Die

Reporter Sam Jaffe, who overslept and missed an appointment in the World Trade Center, reflects on love, evil, and the need to make the guilty pay

On the evening of Sept. 10, I went to bed expecting to take a 5:30 a.m. Amtrak train to New York for a 9 a.m. event at the Millenium Hotel. According to my schedule, I would have exited the PATH train underneath the World Trade Center at about 8:45 and started making my way to the street above.

Never have I been so glad to have overslept. By the time I awoke at 6 a.m., the train had gone, and I decided to remain at my home office in Philadelphia. Three hours later, the buildings where I should have been were in flames. It was impossible for me to feel lucky, knowing as I watched the surreal disaster on TV that dozens of my acquaintances on the higher floors of both buildings might die.


  Then I watched the buildings collapse, and that's when I started to cry. I had arrived at the scene of the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center right after it happened. My most striking memory of that event was the thousands of people milling aimlessly at the base of the towers as broken glass rained down from above, while hundreds of firefighters and police rushed to help. This time, those people would have been swallowed up in the debris of an entire skyscraper. The majority of them are now dead.

I awoke my wife, a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, because I knew she would have to cover the local angle of the story. And then our daughter, who turned one last week. Suddenly, it seemed important to feel her skin and look into her eyes -- an experience that hundreds of Trade Center victims may have longed for as they contemplated their fate.

This wasn't my closest brush with terrorism. While in Israel at the age of 15, I witnessed the controlled detonation of a bomb that had been left by terrorists in a flower shop in Rehovot. When I was 16, I flew an Air India jet from New York to London -- a week later, the plane and the crew I had flown with were blown up by Sikh terrorists. When I was 19, I flew from London to New York on Pan Am flight 193 -- a few weeks later, the same flight was blown up over Scotland.


  I don't feel lucky, because that would imply a world where a person's fate depends things like happenstance and coincidence. As odd as it sounds, I have no doubt that on the morning of Sept. 11 it was God that made me hit my snooze button rather than simply get up. Maybe God has a plan for me, or maybe a plan for my daughter that requires the presence of a father. It isn't for me to question what the plan is.

I do feel angry, however -- angry that I and my family have to live in a world where despicable people commit unspeakable acts. Though I was fortunate not to be in the building, those terrorists were trying to kill me. I have no desire for revenge that might hurt a single innocent person. But I do feel an insatiable desire for justice. The only satisfactory conclusion now is to bring the perpetrators of this crime to account.

Beyond that, I hope that when my daughter grows up, she'll inhabit a different world. Such hope is perhaps the only salve that can ease my pain -- and the world's.

Jaffe writes about the markets for BusinessWeek Online