Category Archives: September 11

Moving Forward

September 11, 2014

Even as sensitive a person as I am, I’m always a little surprised that I still cry when this morning comes around; that for not having lost any loved ones and having merely been a witness, on this day every year, the memories still sit at the forefront of my mind. I suppose though, when the wound is so severe, the scars never really do go away. Thankfully, despite never forgetting, we do go on, tending to our busy lives—our current projects, and the tasks of the present.

One of my ‘current projects’ is training for this year’s New York City marathon. And one of my to-do’s for the day, was a long run. I’ve been lucky, with this summer’s unusually pleasant temperatures, to have logged most of my miles outside, but of course, I’ve had to rely on the treadmill here and there too. The treadmill has it’s plusses—the soft surface, no wind to battle—but for nine miles, it’s just boring. So it was my plan, leaving home this morning, assuming there would be no rain, that my long run would actually be a run home from work. Well, unlike the perfect blue sky we awoke to 13 years ago, the one this September 11th morning was overcast and gloomy. And all afternoon, the threat of a storm seemed to linger above us. But at 6:30, to my surprise and delight, the mighty sun had made its way out from behind the dense canopy of clouds. So I would get my fresh air.

But I couldn’t just bolt like that. See, these long runs, I’ve learned, require preparation. And the preparation requires focus, because if even only one thing is forgotten, I could be in for misery at some point along the way– say, for example, last month’s matching half-dollar size blisters, or the other day when I locked my keys inside my apartment and had to wait, sweaty and exhausted after a two-hour run, for my super to come and save me. So first, it’s a lengthy bandaging and wrapping of both of my feet; then, it’s securing my hair back with a strategic placement of bobby pins so to avoid annoying mid-run fly-aways. And then I have to gather my little pack of essentials—my headphones (must have music), ID (in case of emergency), handkerchief (because I always have the sniffles), energy chews (fuel for the journey), and of course keys. So, I went through the routine, did a double-check that I’d covered everything, and then I was off.

Outside, my mind quickly began to wander, assessing my latest aches and pains, mapping my route and water stops and where I’d be when darkness would fall. And in all of my thinking, ironically, I’d sort of forgotten the day, or that it wasn’t just any day, but 9/11. But then at around Gansevoort Street, the running path on the Hudson River Promenade juts a little further westward and the view of downtown Manhattan opens up. So out of nowhere, suddenly right in front of me, I see the Freedom Tower. And the sky, instead of its earlier, sad grey, was now the most beautiful backdrop, in swirls of pink and white and blue, like cotton candy. Almost instinctively, my arm went up in a fist, like a “woop woop” cheer. And then, worried someone might have seen it and misinterpreted it, I brought it down as quickly as it had shot up. Of course, I wasn’t cheering for the day, but that we’re still here, rebuilt, standing strong.

Freedom Tower 1

I continued on my way as the sun set. And as I curved around the southern-most tip of the island to begin heading northward, I was stopped again, this time to see the tower aglow against the night sky, and to its right, the illuminations of the former towers, reaching upward. I know it sounds sappy, but it took my breath away.

Freedom_Former

And then from the bridge, looing back at Manhattan…

From Bridge

As I write this, again I think it’s strange, that after my morning in tears, as the day went on, I’d almost forgotten it was September 11th. I will never associate the word happy with this date, but on my run, I was glad to have been reminded of it again, seeing the Freedom Tower before me, and glad that instead of feeling sad, I felt propelled to move forward, with my head lifted, proud and strong.

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Wish You Were Here

CITYarts "Forever Tall" Mural 2001, NYC (detail)

It started out an ordinary day. I was living in lower Manhattan at the time, in an apartment with two roommates. The three of us were up, getting ready for work over coffee and the Today Show, and a little after 8:30, I headed out to catch the subway to the office. Like so many have said, the sky that morning was an amazing blue. It was a perfect late summer day—clear, cloudless, beautiful. I noticed it especially, because the night before, it had been pouring rain. I had no umbrella, so I stood in the lobby of the World Trade Center, waiting for it to calm. The World Trade Center towers stood on top of the subway station I took to work, so at the beginning and end of every day, I passed through the building. As sad as it is to admit, I was always a little suspicious of the briefcases that entered with the businessmen and women, thinking that one day, one would hold a bomb. Still, I went in an out like it was nothing. I loved the towers. They were a landmark of New York City that led the way for lost tourists. They were mighty and proud, as if given the task to preside over the neighborhood. Of course, I didn’t know that night would be the last time I stood inside them.

When I got down into the station that Tuesday morning, I swiped my metro card, only to find that my monthly pass had expired. So I went to the machine to buy a new one. While my transaction was processing, I heard that a train had already come and gone, so I knew I’d have to wait a while for the next one. Down on the platform, I worried about the fact that I was going to be late. Little did I know what was to come. Maybe a minute later, I heard a big boom that had come from somewhere– in the distance or nearby, I couldn’t tell. I had noticed it, but I remember thinking nothing much of it. I’d been living in the city for already six years by then; noises didn’t bother me. So I continued to wait, my feet planted. And then a man walked by me and said, “I would leave if I were you.” I listened.

There was an exit nearby, but the gate was down at the turnstiles, so it was one by one that the fifty or so of us there, moved through the single revolving door. We were being directed by a police officer on the other side who was telling us to stay calm. I had no idea what he meant.

When I got onto the street, I saw the burning building standing above me. Black smoke flooded the perfect blue sky. Paper rained down like confetti, with shattered glass and pieces of the building lined in fire. I had never seen anything like it. Except maybe in a movie. And I knew this was only the beginning of something very bad, and that I needed to get away. So I ran, in my leather, thong flip flops. In the commotion I heard something about a plane and a mention of terrorists. And I started to cry. It was the first time in my life that I thought I might die. I was twenty-four years old but I felt like a child. I wanted my mom and dad. I could feel that my mascara was in streams down my face as I gasped for air. A man running beside me put his arm around me and pushed me to keep going. So I continued to run. And then the second plane hit. And there was more smoke and more fire. And I kept running.

The first tower fell when I reached Washington Square Park and as the day played on, the news continued to get worse. Thankfully, I knew no one who was harmed and the worst of it for me was losing my apartment. I was one of the lucky ones.

So today marks ten years. I’ve cried a lot these past few weeks, seeing the photographs and videos. They bring me back like it was yesterday. I look at them so that I won’t forget. I think of those people who lost their lives that day. Compared to them my story is nothing. I hear the names read aloud and can’t imagine being a parent and losing your twenty-three year old daughter or son, or being a teenager losing your mother or father. So many there that day never had a chance to live their lives beyond that morning. I’m so grateful that I did.

There is a memorial now where the towers once stood, with two reflecting pools and the names of all who were lost inscribed in bronze. Though the story of September 11 will never be one of peace, I hope this can be a place of peace. Not that we ever forget the void left in our city or worse, the void left in so many hearts; but that we remember the ones that were lost, and continue to live with hope for brighter days.

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Beautiful Day

Every year as this date approaches, I’m always a little torn as to how I’m supposed to be feeling. Time is indeed a healer, and for that I am grateful. I don’t cry as much these days. But I don’t think about that morning as much either or of all the people who were lost. For that I’m sad.

Today, was especially strange as it was a Saturday, and instead of being up early, getting ready for work watching the memorial on television as I have done for years, I was in bed waking up slowly, thinking of all the things I had planned for my afternoon. Out my windows I could see the sun shining and the sky the same late summer blue as I remember from that morning nine years ago. I wasn’t in the city, but in Brooklyn, in my new neighborhood, at the park, at the market, amongst all the new faces, breathing in the fresh air. Today I did not feel grief. Today, I felt the spirit and beauty that make New York the greatest city on earth.

We must continue. But we will never forget.

Who Ever Knew About Gander?

Yesterday, in the middle of the Saturday afternoon Olympic coverage, I happened to catch a piece by Tom Brokaw about a little town in Canada called Gander. I searched for a link of the video and at finding nothing have decided to send a request to NBC to air it again. In the meantime I will try to retell it here, though Tom told it so well; this surely won’t even compare.

Gander, population just under 10,000, is located in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The story starts on the morning of September 11, 2001 and continues for the several days that followed, when the town was given a rare task or even test perhaps, at being neighborly. 

Moments after the planes hit the World Trade Center, North American airspace had to be cleared and all transatlantic planes heading westbound to the US had to be redirected to land immediately. 39 of them touched down at Gander Airport unloading 7000 people, who for the next four days were stranded with the clothes on their backs. Heightened security procedures were not allowing anyone to remove luggage from cargo.

For the town of Gander, the first issue was to find accommodations for the flood of unexpected guests. With all of the hotels combined, there were still only 500 beds. So, the schools and legion halls opened their doors. Next it was transporting the guests from the airport to the temporary shelters. There was bad news on this front, because the best option—the school buses—were of no help; the drivers happened to be on strike.

That’s when the kindness began. The mayor got on the phone explaining the quandary, and within minutes, the drivers put down their fight, got in their buses and started driving. Next it was food. And then blankets, and toiletries, and clothing and prescriptions. The people of Gander had to pull together. Local television and radio stations announced the need for assistance and soon residents started pouring in with support. Stores opened, letting people come in and take things off of shelves without paying. Pharmacies filled emergency prescriptions free of charge. Strangers offered their homes for stranded guests to take showers. The outpouring of generosity was overwhelming and for the people of Gander, it was seemingly second nature.

While the stranded guests mourned for their country, their Canadian hosts consoled them. One elderly couple worried for days whether their son, a New York City firefighter was alive or not. A Gander woman walked with them to church each day to pray.

When the airports opened up again stranded guests were in tears leaving their hosts-turned-friends. The common reaction was that after such a display of evil, people’s faith in humanity had been restored thanks to the people of Gander. As a token of appreciation for the hospitality they were shown, the stranded guests started a scholarship fund that has since raised nearly $900,000 and had assisted in sending 11 high school graduates to college.

Having been in New York on that horrible day there was little aside from the tragedy that I focused on in the aftermath. I certainly had no idea of the goings-on in Gander. I am so glad I happened to catch this piece Tom Brokaw did, and though my eyes were far from dry and I felt great sadness being reminded of 9/11, I felt happiness at such a heartwarming story of neighborly kindness.

Thank you Gander. Thank you Canada.

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