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Sunday, September 11, 2005Memories of Sept 11th..four years later...
When writing this post a song came to mind "Why" by Annie Lennox, in the days after 911 a remix of the song was done and dominated the airwaves here in New York. Please click here to hear the song and get full effect of this post.
As a New Yorker I am often asked about my reaction to 9.11. I never talk much about it because everytime I do a lump forms in my throat. I was asked by a friend to put it all into words today, on the fourth anniversary of a day that changed the world forever. For some time afterwards I was stoic, putting on a brave face but the reality of it was that I was scared, and I was hurt. Four years ago today, NYC lost its' innocence.I know it's a cliche, but at times it seems just like yesterday.Yet there are days when it seems like it was a lifetime ago.
It was Reina's 19th birthday,it was such a beautiful day,that's what i'll always remember the most. I think that's what all New Yorkers remember the most, the beautiful day it had started out to be. The sky was so blue like something out of a post card.The cumulus cloud were so fluffy and white, as if God had drawn them onto the sky. If Reina and I had not been running late that day we would have been there. The gorgeous day enthralled us, we didnt want to be indoors. We were going to leave school early in the morning and head out to the towers and act like tourists, do some site seeing take pictures of the towers. Then the news started to filter into the school library. At first we all thought it was an accident, but when the 2nd plane hit the towers we knew. I watched as the 2nd plane hit, and felt my heart break. The horror of the reality was just too much. I refused to believe someone would do this to us, to my city, to my people. It hurt too much to think that such hatred exsisted.
Then the the announcents started pouring in...several more planes were missing.... The Pentagon had been attacked..a plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania...
I remember the panic, the feeling that nothing would ever be the same again
My heart breaking at the thought that those people knowing they were going to die had the courage to take on the hijackers and bring the plane down...
I kept thinking, "Lord when will it stop, this can't be happening". I wondered how could God let this happen to so many innocent people. I've always loved my city, but that day my love for the city and it's people grew. The stereotype that people have of New Yorkers is just that a stereotype.We are a friendly people, we are empathetic, and above all caring. We are no different than Small Town USA.
It's just we're bigger,our pace is faster and we're more diverse; but like all families when things get hard we band together and look out for each other.
My mom was cleaning the house when a friend called from Michigan with the news. My mom turned on NY1 a local news station and saw the footage. Still not believing it she ran to her bedroom window to look at the towers. Hundreds of our neighbors had the same thought. Then they saw the 2nd plane hit the tower.My mom's knees went weak and gave out from under her as she realized this wasn't an accident. She had to hold onto the window frame to keep from falling. As she looked at the cloud of smoke over Manhattan her body shook from her sobs. Over and over she cried, " God please help them, please help them!"
They stood watch all morning on the balconies,windows,and roofs. An entire neighborhood's eyes looking towards the East River, my nieghborhood. As the 1st tower began to collapse they yelled in unison as if the power behind their voices could stop what was happening. They held their hands out as if they could hold the towers up.
My dad worked in lower Manhattan. He was looking out his office window when the first plane hit. He watched in shock as the 2nd plane turned and approached. He could see people jumping out the WTC windows. He could see them as they hit the pavement. He's never gotten over that. It still makes him cry to think of it. He could see the faces as they went past his window. He couldn't look away. He saw the rain of human carnage fall on the people who filled the streets. Body parts fell from the sky,a human leg went past his window. People splattered on the side walk below him. He wondered where God was, why was this happening?
My mom worried about family and friend working at the WTC. Thankfully most made it out alive, but we lost some. Among them a fireman and a police officer. Men with children, men with family, giving their lives while saving others. She worried about me and Reina thinking we were out there. I was able to get through to my mom quickly despite the phone lines going down. I hitched a ride home. I needed to be with my mom. I was worried about my father, my family.
For as long as they'd been a couple dad had always called my mom several times throughout the day. No matter how busy he is, even if it was only to talk for 30 seconds. This was the first time in 20 years that the routine had been broken. My mother was a wreck. She prayed to every God she could think of and even made up a few along the way. Hours later the phone rang and we heard, "Hello Boogie..." ,my dad's greeting when he calls mom. Before he could even finish the greeting my mom broke down. She wanted him to stay in Manhattan at his brother's apartment because there was no transportation into The Bronx. At first he didn't want to, but he finally gave in to mom and promised to call her as soon as he got to his brothers house. But the need to be with his family was strong. It seemed all of NY felt the same need. Everyone wanted to be at home with their families.The streets were filled with people trying to get home by whatever means possible. Strangers shared rides. People walked in groups comforting each other for miles.People stood on their stoops handing out food and water to the weary travelers that passed by.
My father walked for several hours from midtown Manhattan into The South Bronx. Once in The Bronx he managed to hitch a ride into the North East Bronx where we live and walked from the highway to our house. When he finally got home he held my mom and cried, until then I had never seen my dad cry. He held her so tight it seemed as if he would break her. I heard him crying, "why, why, why?" over and over again. My mother held him tightly. It's a heart breaking experience to see your dad,this tall powerfully built man, collapse into your moms arms like a toddler. This man who's alway been a pillar of strength to everyone.I never thought it possible to love my dad anymore than I already did but at that moment I felt my heart flood with love for him.
The city was united in grief, every where you looked people were crying on the streets.The next day on my way to work, I started crying on the subway it all seemed to hit me at once. I'd been afraid to get on the subway, but my mom insisted I not let fear overcome me, not let it make me stop living.So with my heart in my throat and tears brimming in my eyes I rode the subway into Manhattan.I had to go to work, I was needed.
My tears had plenty of company on the train that day. By this time it was known that it had been the work of Muslim extremists..there had been footage on CNN of these ignorant bastards dancing in the streets celebrating. There had been news of Muslims being attacked all over the US by ignorant Americans. On the subway rode an elderly Muslim man, no one bothered him , no one shot him dirty looks. We were all too wrapped up in our grief. He saw me crying and came over to me. He put his hand on mine;I could tell he had been crying as well. He looked into my eyes with the most pained look I had ever seen in my life and told me, "We are not all like this. This is not the work of Holy Men. They are mad men perverting the word of The Q'uran." I squeezed his hand and nodded. I just couldn't speak, but I knew he was right. Innocent Muslims had been killed as well. This was not Allah's will.
We held hands until my stop came up, I hugged him as I got off and told him, "Peace be with you." and left him hanging his head tears brimming in his eyes.
People from all over the world came to NYC, they came to help us, to assure us we were not alone. So many people... The entire city was in a catatonic-like state,the normally noisy, cheerful crowded streets were replaced by something other wordly.The city expected the hospitals to be over loaded with survivors.Instead thousands of posters started appearing on the streets, all of them looking for someone. I'd look at each one and prayed they'd be found. SoHo had been renamed "Ground Zero".
At work it was a mad house, a few of my co-workers had relatives that worked at the WTC and were missing...we were so grateful for the rescue workers, so grateful for the flood of humanity that came to our city. We needed to know we weren't alone.
The planes shook my faith in humanity, but the aftermath of it all restored it. The world prayed for us and prayed with us. Some of us like me needed to pray alone. Every night I would look out the window where the WTC had once stood. Looking at the burning fires..the smoke and I would pray..tears streaming down my face..every night thanking God for the rescue workers and our fire fighters and policemen.. every night my mother would thank God for me not being there and my dad making it home...and she'd pray for those who died and their families. Every night I prayed for those who were broken hearted, for those who had no hope. We'd pray for the safety of our extended Muslim family. Always worrying about them, fearing that an ignorant son of a bitch would harm them out of grief and ignorance.
A week later the fires were still burning,and I wandered near "Ground Zero" by accident. I'd taken a wrong turn while running an errand. The stentch was horrible, it was the world's largest funeral pyre. Burning chemicals,the remains of of the dead being burnt, ashes being carried in the air. When I realized where I was I began to cry and shake. It was different than watching the images on TV. Here I was confronted with the reality of what had happened of what been lost. The smell of it invaded my nostrils. It burned my eyes. Four years later I've never forgotten that smell or seeing the destruction. Hundreds of people milled around me dirty and exhausted from the recovery efforts, it was surreal. I felt as If I was in a nightmare unable to wake up. I felt like I was a lost kid,I wanted my mommy.I wanted it all to be a horrible dream. But it wasn't a dream was it? It was real. Everyday we live with the reminders of it all. I stood there enveloped in the smell of the dead, closed my eyes and prayed for them eventhough there was a part of me that wanted to run away. Run into the safety of my mother's arms, bury my face into her bosom and cry. I stood there looking around at what had been done to my city. I didn't think of revenge. I just wished that something had been learned, that violence is not the answer. It solves nothing, it doesn't bring back the dead, or the feeling one had before tragedy, it breaks mother's hearts, it is putrid and posions the soul. I couldn't understand then why was this happening, and I still don't.
In the years since I've watched my city live life via the colors of the rainbow of terror alerts. Armed National Guards in the subways...we're still healing, still mourning.We will never forget it or fully recover from it. The grief is like a shadow sometimes it's seen other times it's not. But it's always there, always a tear drop away. As a kid I did alot of traveling by car out of NY. I would look forward to seeing the skyline as we drove back home, but to me I wasn't officially home until I saw the twin towers looming in the sky... whenever i'd see them i'd say to myself,"Ahhhh it's good to be home."...Four years later the skyline still looks so empty. Four years later the pain hasn’t lessened, in fact the reality of what was lost is now more clear. Four years later I look out my window towards the empty space that was once the towers and I cry as the names of the dead are being read on the news. Four years later I pray that this no one will ever know this pain , the pain of the actual event, the pain that endures four years later.
When my brother was a little boy he admired fireman so much he wanted to be one. After Sept. 11th his fear made him put aside that dream. Now he is a teenager making plans for college...his dream has come back to life,he wants to be a fireman. Even though the child in him had been frightened, the man in him has emerged; stronger, braver and determined that the events of four years ago will not stop him from fulfilling his dream. He is the true embodiment of what a New Yorker is, of what an American is. Now more than ever as he sees our bravest and finest still recovering from that day, he realizes that they are his true heroes. These are the men and women to look up to, to emulate. His heroes are the ones who put their lives on the line for us everyday,and love their jobs despite the risk and being uderpaid. This is the lesson Sept. 11th taught him. That that in order to honor them and those we lost, he must be willing to take their place, to live their shared dream for them. He must take his place beside them. Sept 11th may have temporarily knocked the wind out us. But people like my brother they are the proof that we as a people will never be beaten. We rise from our knees and show the world that as a people we are resilient and strong. Nothing will ever stop us from living our lives. We are not afraid.
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