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In the Shadow of 9/11

Being in New York on September 12, 2001 was like living Hollywood’s depiction of the End. The normally bustling city was eerily quiet as if everyone had left in hurry.

The World had shifted, and we who were still around were holding our collective breaths, unsure what our next move should be.

I took the subway to work, not because I had to but because I couldn’t watch any more television, and because I wanted everything to go back to normal, in a New York minute. Somehow, I thought, if I willed myself to go out, the city would do the same. That spirit of resilience did return but it would take months for the new normal to take shape.

A few weeks shy of the first anniversary, I found myself working next door to the site. From my office

New World Trade Center Building

New World Trade Center Building

window, 9 floors up, I could look straight down into the crater that was once the World Trade Center. I did, once, and that was enough. I kept playing back the images I’d seen on television of people jumping to their deaths. I tried to imagine the terror that pushed them to make that choice. It was difficult for me to fathom.

Each morning as I walked the narrow path that wound its way through the cleanup site and lead to my office, I wondered if the spot I had just put my foot was the place someone had died.

No matter how early I went to work, people clogged the path and lined the chain link fence that surrounded it. I couldn’t understand why anyone who didn’t need to be there wanted to and worse, to bring children, some still in strollers.

No one wore masks or covered their noses from the acrid stench that stained the air like bad gas. I dreaded going to work until I discovered a new subway stop that bypassed the site altogether. It meant a longer walk, but it was worth it.

On that first anniversary, I wept during the minute of silence at work. I wept for the victims, their families and for my city.

By the time work took me to New Jersey, the debris had cleared. And as the PATH train snaked through what was the lower levels of World Trade Center station, I turned my back, I didn’t want to look. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was disturbing the dead.

I was relieved when construction started to take shape and the new towers began to rise quickly, triumphantly to the sky.

The events of 9/11 cast a long shadow over New York City and the U.S. It was the closest thing to war for me. I can’t forget, I won’t forget but I can smile because New York City has healed. New York City has found its new normal.

Update: Two of my friends in New York emailed me that today’s an almost exact replica of 9/11. Besides it being a Tuesday, the skies are beautiful, not a cloud and the air is crisp.

 

Innocence Lost – 9/11 Remembered

My office, a block south of Grand Central, is empty except for one person when I arrive at a few minutes past nine on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I greet him as I go towards my desk and ask where everyone is.

Without taking his eyes from his monitor, he says casually, “Oh, they’re in the lunch room. Somebody flew a plane into the World Trade Center. If you look out the window, you can see the smoke.”

Walking the few feet to the window, I think how unlucky people in the WTC are. I remember the 1993 bombing and news footage of employees emerging from the building covered by something whitish.  I remember the look of terror on some of their faces.

With many of its employees traumatized by the experience, my company made the bold decision to move from the thirteenth floor at One World Trade Center to the fifth floor of a building almost a world away on Park Avenue.

When I get to the window, I notice an unimpressive plume of smoke curling its way towards the sky. This had to be a small private plane or tour helicopter, I think. Several companies take tourists on helicopter tours of New York City everyday. One must have crashed.

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