This post is atypical of what I usually write about, but seeing it’s an event that cannot be ignored, I have to mention it. Today is the eleventh anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, otherwise known as 9/11. Those of us in New York City are stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding this day. Of course we must pay our respects to those who were lost but this is something that has been in the news every single day since then. Not a day has gone by that it was not mentioned on a newscast. It’s tough to listen to all the time yet for some reason I can’t ever turn the channel even though I would like to stop hearing about it. And then I feel guilty for thinking that. Am I alone in feeling that?
I was off work on September 11th, 2001, sleeping late. The phone rang several times that morning and I ignored it, but after the third or forth call, I dragged myself out of bed to see who was calling me. After I listened to the first message on my answering machine, I pulled back the kitchen curtain in my Brooklyn apartment and could see that one of the towers was on fire. It was one of the things that sold me on that apartment, the view of the World Trade Center. I moved into it straight from Texas and to have an iconic view like that really meant something to me. Like everyone else in the country, I turned on the television and watched the events unfold. From my window, I watched both towers fall as I stood in my kitchen unable to wrap my brain around what was happening.
Outside, neighbors were gathering and the smell of smoke had already made it all the way across the river. Ash and scraps of office paper floated in the air littering the streets with what may have been something very important just an hour before. I picked up a piece of paper and saw it was from the desk of a man I of course didn’t know, but I held on to it thinking I should try to get it back to him somehow. Eventually, it was obvious that there would be no way to retrieve all the pieces of paper that were singed and burned and now flying across Brooklyn. I threw away the one scrap I had held on to, but have since wondered if his family would have liked to have had it.
I didn’t lose anyone personally in those attacks so it was easy to distance myself from it at first. But as days passed, it was clear that we were all in this together. At The Brooklyn Marriott, where I worked at the time, someone lost his mother-in-law. They never found her. The next day when I went back to work, I heard stories from my co-workers who witnessed the throngs of people escaping Manhattan by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge which the hotel was at the foot of. People poured into the hotel as a safe place after getting off the bridge and away from the unbelievable happenings in lower downtown.
Within a couple of days, people started hanging flyers up with pictures of their loved ones who they were unable to locate. Two blocks from my apartment, a house was plastered with pictures of a pretty blond woman who had lived there and was missing. Her flyer was everywhere. Walking thorough my neighborhood, more and more flyers were posted of happy smiling faces who were at at the wrong place at the wrong time. To me, that was the saddest thing; all those people looking for their husbands, wives, sons and daughters when deep down inside they had to have known they would never see them again. It was torturous for me and I didn’t even know them.
Over and over again, we hear the words “never forget” in regards to 9/11. Never forget the people, right? Never forget how quickly things can change? Never forget that we are at the mercy of someone who may want to cause us harm? Yes, let’s never forget those things, but there is something else I always want to remember about the weeks following 9/11. New York City became a quiet and respectful city. Sitting on the subway, you could look into the eyes of a perfect stranger and know that you shared something with them. People were kind to each other and helpful. “Please” and “thank you” were common and patience was suddenly a virtue everyone had. Cars weren’t honking and people weren’t yelling. Everyone was sharing the same quiet city together. We all knew that the togetherness would fade away eventually and it was so gradual that it’s impossible to say when it was no longer there. But for a while, all of New York City was a family. I wish we could remember that. Out of all the horrible things that happened that day, that was the one positive that came out of it. It reminded us that we are all here together sharing this planet. And we all need to lean on each other and help one another. Give your subway seat to the old lady. Stick your tongue out at a kid in the grocery store to make him laugh. Tell your friends how much they mean to you. These are the things that happened in New York City after 9/11 that I wish people would remember.
I didn’t talk to my mom that day until late in the afternoon. Friends had called to check on me as did my grandma and brothers, but not my mom. When I finally talked to her, I asked if she was worried about me. “Nah,” she said. “I knew it was your day off and I couldn’t imagine that you got up early to go to the World Trade Center. I figured you were safe and sound and sleeping late.” Of course she was right. Who knows you better than your mom? “I knew you were okay,” she said. Ten days later I got on an airplane to go see my family in Texas. I hadn’t cried about 9/11 other than a few tears here and there, but when I got off the plane and saw my mom, I sobbed like a baby. I held her tight and suddenly I was so thankful to be alive. So maybe that’s what we should never forget: we are alive and it’s our job to appreciate every single minute of our days. That is the lesson we should learn from the 2,985 people who died ten years ago.