Remembering, and never forgetting.
It was a Tuesday, just like today.
Eleven years ago. So much has happened between then and now that I really I can believe that it’s been that long. The world seemed like an awful place at that time. It was tragic, it was horrible, and it felt hopeless. Things aren’t back to the way they were on September 10th, 2001, but I do feel better today than I did ten years and 364 days ago. I’m not going to get political with my reasons, but the passage of time somehow did make it easier to cope.
At least for me it did. I was one of the lucky ones; lucky in the sense that I didn’t know anyone first-hand who was lost in the attacks. There were luckier ones, like my friend who ran out of the tower and across the Brooklyn Bridge before his office disintegrated. And there were unlucky ones, far too many unlucky ones. God Bless them all, and all the people who loved and needed them.
We all made a vow, myself included, to Never Forget. I see those words everywhere: mostly on fire trucks and police stations, but also on bumper-stickers, T-shirts, posters, and monuments. I haven’t forgotten, but time has made those memories a bit more distant. If I try, I can recall the traumatic images that I’ve seen on TV or read about – in excruciating detail, but I choose not to. When one of the videos is shown on TV, I quickly change the channel. When I see the image on newspaper (as I undoubtedly will today), I turn and look away. Does that make me a bad or insensitive person? That’s an inner conflict that I have with myself. It’s selfish of me to avoid a reminder when others have faced the real thing. But there’s remembering the day and re-living the day, and I’m not quite able to re-live it. I apologize in advance to anyone who thinks I’m being selfish – maybe you’re right.
On this day in 2012, as I have on this day every year for the ten previous years, the memories I recall are not those of what happened, but how I felt.
Like, while sitting in my cabin on the cruise ship near Mexico and watching everything unfold on TV, thinking that I am probably in the safest place I can be right now.
Like, amid the chatter among other passengers, that girl in her early 20s with the dark hair and the pink Yankees cap (I can visualize her perfectly) who told me “I heard the Jews did it.” And my silent response: It’s possible, crazy fanatical people come in all types, but I hope it’s not true. If it is, that would ruin the social equality that the rest of us have earned. (That actually did happen for people of a different ethnic background. And sadly, it still does.)
I remember eventually catching a flight to Philadelphia (with my father’s throat in his stomach) and then an Amtrak train back to New York. Some passengers flocked to the windows on the right side of the train to watch the billowing smoke in the distance as we chugged through the swamplands of northern New Jersey. It seemed a little odd to me, but nobody judged anyone for it. It was an awkward feeling on that train, and nobody knew what was the right or wrong thing to do. I caught a glimpse, but that was enough for me. I just wanted to get home.
Then, at Penn Station, there were a few of those “MISSING” signs and photos hanging on the walls. The signs were sparse, compared to the countless signs attached to every reachable surface Downtown, but fewer signs meant plenty of time to read and study each one. It was the first time I recall feeling the individuality of the victims rather than the numbers.
For the next few months, there would be times I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a sense of uneasiness, and I’d turn on CNN to check. Then I’d try to get back to bed. I watched a lot of CNN that first year. One day, I remember being glued to the victims’ names scrolling across the bottom of the screen. One of the names was the same as the name of a girl I dated back in high school. I wondered for months if it was her. It was quite some time later that I saw a picture and read a bio of this person, and realized it was not.
I was working as an engineer for a cell-phone company in at the time. After coming back from vacation, I had learned that some of my coworkers in New York and Washington DC had been dispatched to the sites with radio scanners to try to locate cell-phone signals which may lead them to survivors. One person from my Philadelphia office, a very youthful-looking was on his way to New York to help out when he was called back. Other co-workers dubbed his mission “Operation Eagle Scout.” I found that terribly offensive, but said nothing.
My cousin was working across the river in Jersey City and watched the events through his office window. He wrote about it in an email, saying he thought it would be “therapeutic” to do so. I never deleted that email, but as I searched for it now, I can’t find it. I guess Hotmail doesn’t keep emails over ten years old. One of the most chilling images of his story was of the train station parking lot where he had left his car every day. While the lot normally fills up starting from the entrance, he noticed that, in the days and weeks after returning to work, that a few of the same cars – he identified them by make, model, and color, would be sitting in the same parking spots day after day, week after week. Obviously, these were the vehicles of people who came to work that morning and never made it home. One day, all of the cars had a chalk-mark placed on the tire. A few days later, they were gone. I could picture it: a near-empty lot with the same cars in certain distant spaces. Another visual example of how an ordinary day suddenly turned into something very different.
I’m a big angry that the building now under construction in downtown NYC will be called “One World Trade Center” and has been stripped of its original “Freedom Tower” name. This was done, apparently, to make the building more marketable to tenants. Something about it just seems wrong.
These are some the thoughts that I remember thinking; the emotions I remember feeling. None of them are captured on TV or in print (until this blog post), and all of them are purely mine and mine alone. This is how I remember 9/11/2001. I don’t need to see pictures of the burning buildings or the made-for-TV movies. I have my lifelong memories.
(Usually, when I write a blog post, I try to give it a clear flow that comes to a nice, neat conclusion. This one is just an unstructured jumble of miscellaneous related thoughts, much like the thoughts in my head. I am unable to bring the events of the day into any sort of logic or focus, and that comes through in my writing today. Thanks for bearing with me.)