9/11: The Aftermath
I came with mixed feelings. The rainy, cold air matched my sentiments. I’d avoided this part of my history, and the world’s, long enough. So here I was, in the long line waiting to enter One World Observatory, also known as the Freedom Tower.
One look at the commemorative rubble, and memories started flooding back. My voice caught as I tried to share my feelings. The images, the silence, the jets flying overhead.
In 2001, I moved to New York City, enjoying its world famous sights and diverse neighborhoods. Several nights in a row, I attended free dance concerts on the World Trade Center plaza. Arriving early to secure a seat, I watched planes fly close to the twin buildings, wondering how they maneuvered and still managed to avoid contact.
I missed the September 10th concert. It was raining, and the dance company was not one I knew. In the morning I slept in, awakened by my telephone. Unusual, as I knew no one in my new city.
“Hello?’ I asked.
“It’s me,” said my friend Marianne, calling from California. “Are you watching the news? Are you OK?”
“What?” I asked.
“A plane hit one of the Twin Towers,” she said.
I had no television. Marianne was my eyes and ears. “Maybe it’s an accident,” I said. “Planes fly really close.”
Then the second plane hit. We both knew it was not an accident.
I flipped on my radio and dressed. Exiting my apartment, I headed toward the Red Cross building three blocks away. The silence was powerful. No children were in the playground. No one lingered outside of the housing project next door. Behind Lincoln Center I began to see abandoned cars, buses, taxis. The only sound was vehicle radios, with people huddled around, trying to understand what was happening, considering what to do next.
Hundreds of people arrived at the Red Cross, filling out volunteer applications. They needed medical personnel and licensed New York psychologists. I was neither.
I walked the streets, a voyeur in a daze. Signs already appeared on store fronts, hospital windows, telephone poles. Signs with photographs. Heartbreaking signs, with or without stories. “Have you seen…? Or “Last seen…” Or “Looking for…” Posted on every available space.
My local fire station lost its entire morning crew. People brought food and flowers, so abundant they spilled onto the street. By day two, when a fire engine drove down the road, pedestrians stopped, and applauded. By now, every station was filled with flowers, fresh ones, still flowing beyond sidewalks.
And the stories, they continued. I passed an older African American woman: “They told me to run. Just keep running. I ran as fast as I could, the fires behind me.” College dorms were told to keep their windows closed. For days, smoke hung throughout the city. Purses were searched before entering libraries. Cement blocks were erected outside of Lincoln Center, eliminating the possibility of bomb filled cars driving onto the plaza. Automobile trunks were searched before parking at hotels. Funerals were too many for remaining police and firemen to attend.
New York City had changed.
I remembered it all as I walked through the museum. I re-experienced the panic, the pain, the loss. Not only mine, the world’s. The inhumanity of one group to another. The pain from one individual to another. I thought of the devastation America has contributed to in other countries. Isn’t it the same?
I walked outside to the fountains. To the beauty of the reflections in the pools. And I wondered, what have we learned?