on September 11th, 2001?
Perhaps you were home, getting ready for work. Maybe taking the kids to school? Or, like me, were you already at work?
I think there are very few people in the United States that cannot remember where they were on that fateful day. Some of you were actually in New York City when the atrocity took place. Others, like myself, call New York City home despite living 1200 miles away. I grew up in New York City, born and raised in Queens and Manhattan. I lived on 14th street and Riverside Drive, right across the street from the park. It was an amazing place to live, rich with culture and excitement.
When I was just 8 years old, my biological father, Stephen, took me to the World Trade Center, shortly after they were erected. He had an office there. I helped him paint the walls of his office at the stock brokerage firm where he worked. And while I made more of a mess than I did help, it was a memory that was locked in time and preserved within the walls of the Trade Center. It was always a part of me, long after my father was killed in a car accident. It was a place I could return to that made me remember that innocent time of my childhood.
That place is gone forever.
I remember getting up and having the hotband drive me to work that morning. I worked in Downtown Tampa at the time. I was in the middle of a surgery when my husband called the office where I worked. He said it was urgent. My heart pounded rapidly, thinking there was something wrong with the kids.
“Babe,” he said. “I’m at Best Buy. Something terrible has happened.”
“What? What happened? Are the kids okay?”
“The kids are fine. The Twin Towers are under attack. Airplanes. They used airplanes to crash into the building. The north tower, I think.”
“Oh my God, honey,” he said. “Another plane went into the second building. Babe, we are being attacked. Someone is attacking New York!”
I held my breath. My parents. My brother. My aunts and uncles. They all live in close proximity to the city. My uncle was on 2nd avenue with a view of the Towers from his window. Are they safe? My mind was racing.
“The tower, babe,” he continued. “It collapsed! It’s laying in a heap on the ground. Baby, people are throwing themselves out of windows from the 74th floor!”
Time stood still. How could that building collapse? I didn’t understand. Even if a plane crashed into it, how could that mighty structure fall to the ground? I was confused, shaken. People choosing to fall to their death rather than succumbing to the blazing fires. I was sickened.
“Come back, baby,” I pleaded. “Come back to my office. Please!”
I ran into the surgical room and told the Doctor what was going on. He instructed us to turn on the television that was in the room. We turned it on just in time to see the second tower collapsing. I turned pale, ran into the bathroom and threw my guts up. This is when we started hearing about the other planes. Flight 93 that crashed into a field somewhere up North…the other plane that rammed into the Pentagon. The details were sketchy at the time, but one thing was for sure.
This was no coincidence. We were at war. We were under attack.
For the next 72 hours, I was glued to the telvision set. I couldn’t reach my family in New York. Phone lines were down or busy due to a heavy congestion of calls. I cried so much in those 72 hours. I remember the husband and I fell asleep in front of the television, waking up only moments later to be met with those horrific photos and live film of the airplanes hitting the towers. No one knew what the death toll was at that point, but it was believed to be in the thousands. The buildings were too volatile to start a rescue mission. At this point, it would be a recovery mission. Every time another person was found, it made CNN. We would rejoice, another life spared. I still couldn’t reach my family. They were still unaccounted for.
The devastation reached my home in Florida and was brought right to my front door. It was now inside my home and there was nothing I could do about it. Helpless. That was the feeling that loomed in my heart and mind. I was helpless to do anything about this. We waited for our President to decide what would be done in retaliation, to find out who was responsible for this heinous crime. We looked to Mayor Giuliani to guide us through this tragic event. What do we do? Where do we begin?
It took a years time, perhaps longer for the wreckage to be cleared. My husband and I went to Ground Zero and paid our respects to those who were lost on that fateful day. I cried, heavily and mourned the loss of all the lost souls in the buildings, on the planes and for all the families who had been destroyed. I loved the fact that everywhere you looked, there were American flags being raised. People had them on the cars, on the houses, in the windows of their stores. It said “We will never forget” and it made my heart swell with pride. We were rebounding in the face of tragedy. We were coming together as one. One community, no more racial lines or distinctions. We were all Americans going through this together.
It is eight years later.
The flags are gone. 9/11 is just another day for most people now. Sure, it’s sad in retrospect, but what can we do? Life has to go on. We have work, school and the rigors of daily life to distract us. Sure, we think about the day and recall it, perhaps even reflect upon it. Some don’t remember it at all. Just another day.
It begs the question, are we alright now? Have we healed? Are we safer now, or simply biding our time until the next attack? Are we still holding our breath with wonder or has time resolved it for us?
In my heart, in my head, there will never be enough healing. The people responsible for this transgression have yet to be caught. Instead, we have taken out our aggression and frustration on another country. We are engaged in a pointless and senseless war, bringing more frustration to the American people and more devastation to a country that didn’t ask for our help. We needed to lash out at someone and Iraq was just as good a place as any. We felt good about it at first. Yes, retribution for the crimes committed upon us. But now, do we still feel so good about it? Why are we still there? Saddam Hussein is dead and our children are still overseas, fighting a battle that was won a long time ago.
We are still losing children in the name of September 11th, 2001.
This is why the memory cannot fade. We are not finished yet. It won’t be over until our men and women come home. The point has been made. We will not tolerate terrorism in any form ever again. This is the last time these acts will be perpetrated upon us. There will be no more retaliation or retribution. We are Americans and we are tired of the battle. Weary, in fact.
In essence, we are over it.
Still, I imagine that there isn’t a soul alive who cannot remember where they were and what they were doing on that fateful Tuesday morning. I recall it as clearly as I recall the birth of my two children. I cannot forget. I won’t forget. We can’t forget. Not ever.
I ask each of you to take the time to reflect upon that day and know that those people did not die in vain. The flags have gone away. The memories must survive. They were heros, all of them…the survivors as well as the victims.
They don’t deserve to be forgotten. Ever.