In August 2001, I had a job interview at the Windows of the World, to work as the Executive Assistant to Chef Michael Lomonaco. The interview went very well and I was offered a job as his assistant, but I turned down the job offer, as I took a position as Chef Gray Kunz’s assistant. One reason I declined the position at Windows of the World was my fear of heights… when I was at the restaurant, I had an overwhelming feeling of fear when I looked out the window and the building swayed in the wind… and I felt sick to my stomach.

A month later on the morning of Sept 11th, I was in my NYC apartment getting ready to go into Brooklyn when I heard a loud BOOM, and my apartment building shook. It sounded and felt like a big truck had hit a pot hole outside….. a few minutes later, I received a call from my friend, Maria Lindstrand and she told me to turn on the news. As we both watch the news we saw a second plane hit the other tower, at that moment, we knew that this was no accident. I ran up to the roof of my building and saw smoke pouring out of the towers. I went downstairs to get a camera and by the time I returned, one of the towers came crashing down. I watched in horror and I could hear other on lookers on their roof tops screaming in shock! For the next few hours I stayed glued to the news and I was instant messaging my cousin Harry Fong, as the phone lines were down at that moment.

When I heard they were looking for blood donations at the blood banks I rushed to go… As I walked to the corner of Lafayette and Spring St, I saw hundreds of people all covered in white dust from head to toe, they all had blank stares and no one said a word… they just kept walking towards uptown in silence…. it was an eerie feeling. It felt like a scene out of a sci-fi movie… At that moment I thought this was the end of the world! My mother urged me to stay home, but I couldn’t sit at home, I felt helpless… in my mind, if this was the end of the world, then I have to do something…. The more I stayed home and did nothing, the more afraid I was…

In the following week, I found myself volunteering at Restaurant Daniel. Most restaurants were closed after September 11th, Daniel Boulud, kept his restaurant opened and paid his staff to cook for the rescue workers at ground zero.

Then I heard that The Red Cross was organizing volunteers to cook at ground zero. The following week, I was volunteering in the overnight shift. I would take my little Razor Scooter and pushed my way from Nolita to 23rd Street Chelsea Piers. There was a boat that took volunteers and supplies down to Ground Zero. I helped with the loading of food and supplies and the boat took us down to the Spirit of NY Cruise Ship that was stationed at Ground Zero. There were hundreds of volunteers that worked around the clock preparing meals for the rescue workers.

I worked from midnight until 10 am, 7 days a week. There I met some amazing people from NYC, all over the states, other countries… to as far as Germany. I saw so many volunteers who came to dig and they would thank us repeatedly for helping to feed them, but I thought they were the Real Heros… they were putting their lives in danger by digging in the unstable rubbish and the ground beneath them was still burning. I watched these men push through their pain and continued in their tireless efforts and thought… there must be a way to help them…. I spoke to one of the Red Cross personnel and asked if volunteers could give these men massages to help elevate their pain, so they can continue their work. The following day groups of people were volunteering around the clock to give massages to the volunteers.

I found out that my husband Ed Lendvay, Tim O’Toole and others who worked with the Philadelphia Fire Department, was also among the volunteers who was there helping with the digging at Ground Zero… but our paths didn’t cross until years later when I moved to Philadelphia.

Later that year I volunteered at a fundraiser called “Windows of Hope” for the family members who lost loved ones in the Windows of the World, I ran into Michael Lomonaco and we both hugged each other and I started crying…. he said to me that there was a special function that fateful day and many of his staff were there early in the morning to setup for the event and he was just about to enter the building when the first plane hit. All his staff died that day… if I had taken that job, I would not be here today.

After September 11th, I did a lot of soul searching and I wanted to have a more meaningful life. I had always went to catholic school, but I was never baptized because my mother was a Buddhist… against my mother’s wishes, I was baptized in 2003 and I went to Villa el Salvador, Peru to volunteer for 4 months with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Then in 2005 I went to volunteer in India for Lend a Hand India at Vigyan Ashram and in August 2005 I moved to Philadelphia. My life changed after September 11th…. we saw what evil looked like and how it destroyed our sense of security, it also brought out the best in people. I saw so many amazing people come together to help each other from all over the world! I shall never forget this day…the lives lost and the hero’s that were made! I saw kindness in humanity and we grew stronger and closer. I will never be the same again. It shall always be a day that I will remember…. The pain we all felt, the loss of so many lives…. that in the face of death and uncertainty, the world came together and helped each other. I realized how precious life is and how short our time here is… Many things we hold value to…. doesn’t really matter….. what really matters is the kind of life we live… the lives we have touched and the memories we leave behind.

Chef Michael Lomonaco at Windows of Hope Fundraiser for Families that lost loved ones at Windows of the World

Ed, Tim and friends from Philly Fire Department taking the train to NYC to volunteer at Ground Zero
Ed, Tim and friends from Philly Fire Department at Ground Zero

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