Reflections on September 11th
Ten years have passed since September 11th, 2001. In 2001, I lived in Manhattan when the planes hit the Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, PA. Today I live in Central Pennsylvania where the Susquehanna River has crested and has flooded the streets displacing many people from their homes. While natural disasters are inconvenient and unfortunate, they’re a little easier to swallow than man-made disasters like the September 11th Attacks. Evil is much harder to swallow. I cannot understand how someone can decide it’s a good idea to kill other people. I cannot understand how someone can commandeer an airplane and fly it into a building. I cannot understand how someone can hate a nation as much as the terrorists hate(d) our country.
My life has changed in many ways, more than just a geographic relocation, since the terrorists attacked our country in 2001. However, there are moments from September 11th and the days that followed that remain fresh in my mind.
I remember making a decision to leave the job interview and headed for surface transportation instead of the Subway. Something in me knew that something wasn’t right. Planes don’t just hit buildings, I thought to myself. I knew it had to be terrorism. Something deep inside me knew that it wasn’t an accident. By the time I boarded the bus uptown to my apartment I found out the second plane hit the other Tower. I felt beyond sick, that I was right, as soon as I heard that news.
I remember watching people line Madison Avenue as my bus moved uptown. People were on their cell phones staring downtown at the plumes of smoke that were billowing into the air from downtown.
I remember getting back to my apartment and watching TV with my mother. I felt a pit in my stomach as we watched. Again, I had a terrible feeling that the Towers were going to fall. And when they did, I thought I was going to be sick.
I remember the uncertainty… not knowing if any more planes were heading towards us.
I remember feeling trapped when the City of New York was locked-down so no one could enter or leave.
I remember leaving the apartment with my mom in search of two things: an ATM and tuna fish. (The ATM was for the purpose of having enough cash on-hand if the electricity shut down and people weren’t accepting credit cards. The cans of tuna fish would be used to sustain ourselves in case we couldn’t get fresh food.) I know this sounds weird, but we wanted to be “prepared.”
I remember watching throngs of people walk north on Third Avenue around 10 or 11 a.m. on September 11th. There were no cars on Third Avenue, just people filling the street. (For those of you who don’t know Third Avenue, it’s an uptown street that’s about five lanes wide. Pedestrians would never dare to walk in the middle of Third Avenue on a normal day.) Some people looked as though they had been walking for miles. No one was smiling. Everyone was silent as they walked.
I remember my father finally coming home from the office. He wouldn’t leave work that day. His company had an office in Seven World Trade and he knew some of the people who were down there that day. At the time I was angry at my father for staying at work as the world fell apart. Ten years later I understood that he was with his “work family” awaiting news about his colleagues. Ten years later I get why he stayed.
I remember leaving my apartment with my parents, who were going to stay with me as long as the island of Manhattan was on lock-down, on the evening of September 11th. We walked to the nearest blood bank where my father wanted to donate blood. The blood bank was closing as we arrived at 7:30 or 8 p.m. They weren’t accepting donations that evening. I didn’t understand why they weren’t staying open late to take more blood at that time. In the days to come, I understood why.
I remember having trouble breathing on the evening of September 12th. I had a tightness in my chest. The wind had changed direction and was blowing the smoke and the smells from Ground Zero uptown. I took my rescue inhaler a couple of times, which eventually helped my breathing get back to normal. I felt lucky enough to be able to get my asthma under control as quickly as I did knowing that people who lived further downtown wouldn’t be as fortunate.
I remember walking by a hospital on September 13th. I watched a woman use a staple gun to mount fliers of a loved one to the growing board of fliers of people who were missing. She had tears in her eyes as she posted the fliers of the missing person who may have been a family member or a friend. I didn’t ask her. I just watched her post the fliers up and then she walked away. I’m assume to this day that she was tacking up fliers of this family member or friend at every New York City hospital.
I remember walking past more hospitals in the days that followed September 11th. They were lined with fliers that contained more photographs of people who worked at the World Trade Center. Each photograph had information on the same paper: name, date of birth, height, weight, and identifying features. The fliers stayed up at some hospitals for weeks. Every time I passed the boards of fliers in front of a hospital my eyes welled up with tears knowing that most of these people had perished in the attack.
I remember walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in early October get an idea of what the new skyline looked like. It looked empty, like nothing I had ever seen before. It wasn’t the skyline I grew up with as a kid. I hated the way it looked.
I remember the Tower of Light tribute (i.e., the two beams of light that went up into the air from Ground Zero where the North and South Towers once stood).
I remember reading the Portraits of Grief, which were profiles of those who died on September 11th in The New York Times, for what seemed like months. Day after day, the profiles of people whose lives were cut short on the planes or in the buildings appeared before my eyes. As hard as it was to read those profiles, I read them every day of the week in order to honor the memories of those who perished.
With all of these things I remember, may I never forget.
What are your memories of September 11th or the days that followed? Please share them by leaving a comment.
The memorial concert I was set to attend tonight has been postponed for two weeks due to the flooding. While I was looking forward to attending it tonight, I now have to find another way to commemorate this solemn day today. I will read the commemorative section of The New York Times, which will be available in print and online, while brushing tears away from my eyes. It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been or how many years into the future it will be, the stories of September 11th will continue stir up something inside of me. However, I will remember to look at my daughter and hope she will not have to witness horrendous days like September 11th, 2001.
How will you be commemorating the tenth anniversary of September 11th?