Today is September 11th

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.

19 thoughts on “Today is September 11th

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for that. Such a well-written piece. I'm from upstate NY and I too remember how courteous and compassionate people were afterwards, it was really something special. It's like everyone in the US realized how fragile life is and that it shouldn't be taken for granted, not even for a second. I lost it when they played the National Anthem sung by Whitney Houston on the radio this morning -I didn't know anyone who lost someone and I don't even live in the city, but sometimes the gravity of that day is enough to stop me in my tracks.

  2. Workingdan

    I've seen the stories told on TV over and over again, seen the pictures, the videos of the collapse. For 11 years around this time of year, we relive this fateful day by hearing the untold stories.And every year, I cry. I have never been to NY, yet alone lived in a major city. The only way I have to fathom the event is by tales from others…and it gets me every time. I can't imagine how hard it must be for those who has lost someone that day. Or even those who live in NY and witnessed the horror first hand. I can't imagine what was going through your mind when you looked out your window and watched the buildings crumble to the ground. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Crystal @EatDrinkClev

    Love this post. So well written and poignant. I visited NYC for the 1st time in August and being at the Memorial gave me chills. So many precious lives gone in the blink of an eye and each one of us changed forever. Thank you for sharing.

  4. jnana

    This is beautiful. Calamity always brings people together. I know that's true because it's what we Iraqis experienced as well under the smoky skies and fighter planes. [Not trying to make less of anybody's pain, just stating a fact :)]

  5. California Girl

    I wish we could all remember too. I remember the quiet respectful reactions of everyone who came to visit our tourist area that Fall and Winter, most of whom are from Boston and northern MA. It was amazing. My friends in CA said similar things; the freeways were less fraught with anger, people held elevators open, people said please and thank you. I've certainly never felt that much cohesion. I've often wondered if that spirit, that sense of togetherness, is what our parents and grandparents experienced for four years during WWII. I am continually amazed by the cooperation and kindnesses shown by people to each other in WWII documentaries on England and the USA. It's the "peace that passeth all understanding."

  6. Corey Wilkey

    I think this is the most beautifully written, eloquent thing I have read about the events of 9/11. Having visited New York shortly before the attacks, and then revisiting again about a year after the attacks, and then again in 2008, I think that New York, and the country as a whole, is a little bit more genuine and kind and patient than you think. Obviously, the immediate differences far outweigh what it is like now, but I think a little bit of that still lives inside all of us. It was a dreadful day, but you are right, we do need to remember the good that comes from it and strive to make that the legacy. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. Dewsterling

    My mom survived 9/11 because her boss was out of town and she was running late. She survived that day, but she was never okay again and it killed her all the same in the end when she took her own life.

  8. Frank Giannantonio

    I will never forget. I refuse to. You New Yorkers are close to it on a level I couldn't fathom, and perhaps to hear an outsider say "Never Forget" rubs a lot of you the wrong way, but I believe it to be wise advice concerning the attacks on The World Trade Center, for all of the reasons you mentioned.Mary A, I couldn't agree with you more.Dewsterling, I'm so sorry. Thanks for sharing. Everyone, you're awesome and beautiful.

  9. Francis John Anthony

    This is very sweet and moving. Worthy of a yearly re-post. This day sucks and the suckiness hasn't subsided. The years go by and the effect wears off more and more, but this day is always very hard regardless how much time has passed.What sends me overboard every time is when I try to put myself in the shoes of a passenger five seconds before collision. That thought makes me go cross wire. My brain cannot process the horror and sadness. I'm shaking as I write this. Why did this have to happen?

  10. Shelly

    One of the best posts about 9/11. I, too, miss the family feeling of the months after it happened, the feeling we were all in it together, those of us who survived. I worked in a library 20 blocks north of the WTC, but I was already in my office when it happened, but one of my staff saw the first plane hit the WTC and came in and told me. That day, and the ones that followed, are etched in my brain; I don't need any reminders.

  11. SARAH L

    I am from LA and remember being in total shock those early hours in the morning…I went to class because I was in denial and didn't want to believe this was happening. When I got there, all my classes were cancelled and those of us that went to class just went home. I got home and let all my emotions out bawling…to this day, every year, I cry. Though I've never been to NYC nor knew anyone who was lost that day, every year I am reminded about how when worse comes to worse, we are all ONE NATION and are there for each other no matter what. Bless those souls that we lost that day.

  12. David Cowling

    Well put. I just teared up for the 9th time today. That feeling of family happened everywhere, even here in Dallas. No where more so than NY though. I miss that. It’s seems like a lon time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

  13. Bev Petrosky

    Very moving. Now when I see a post of 9-11 saying Don’t Forget I will remember your article. You should repost this every year. Thank you.

  14. Just A Poor Server

    If anything, it should be a fact that we Never Forget that any day, any time could be the last moment we have, so taking the time to cherish all you have, the people in your life, your crappy job, your parents, step-parents, adoptive parents, grandparents or whoever. Just to sit and think about that and how it can be gone in a single moment.

    I remember visiting New York shortly after that day, it was in December and I visited the site. Even on that day, I felt like New york was still reeling from the effects, because people along the street were holding hands and hugging and smiling at everyone. I got hugged by a random woman who asked if I lost someone (I didn’t, thankfully) but she lost her daughter and I felt horrible.

    It sucks that a tragic event needed to happen to bring us closer, but tragedy often does, but I hope this is a reminder that we really do need to rely on other people in this world, that it doesn’t matter your race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. because we are all trying to go day by day.


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