In light of the fact that today is the anniversary of 9/11, this blog post will be slightly different than the norm. We’ll get right back to the randomness and (hopefully) laughs later in the week, but each year at this time I take a moment to step back, remember, and reflect.
Many of you know that I moved out to New York back when I was 23 years old and fresh off of the farms of Michigan State University (literally and figuratively). One of my best friends and I ventured out on our own for the very first time in our lives, leaving all of our friends and family and comforts behind, driving the U-Haul some 700 miles with our goldfish tucked safely in his bowl in the front seat. It was the end of August 2001 and we could not have been more excited or nervous for what life had in store for us.
We didn’t have too much: no phone, no cable, and a one bedroom apartment so narrow you couldn’t pull out the sleeper couch without moving the tv into the kitchen. We. Had. Arrived.
So on the morning of September 11th, I was just excited to be in the shadows of the city. I was excited to be going into my second week of work, walking what was quickly becoming my “usual route” to the PATH train, thinking about how I couldn’t believe I was really here. But as I got closer and closer to the train station, something felt different.
Garbled announcements were blaring over the loud speakers and people looked quite literally dazed and confused as they filed onto an already over-crowded train and into an air conditioned car, out of the muggy September heat. Some guy on the train kept talking about how one of the towers of the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane, maybe flown by terrorists. It was about 9am and we really couldn’t be bothered with "the crazy guy on the train," so everyone kind of shuffled away from him, rolled their eyes, and held their papers a little higher to avoid eye contact. I obviously wanted to be just like the other New Yorkers, so I turned away from him and tried to settle the unease that was growing in my stomach.
And then I stepped onto 6th avenue.
That view I’d so quickly grown to love was covered in black smoke. There weren’t any cars in the streets, there were sirens in the distance, and there was an eerie calm of a seemingly abandoned city. I continued to walk, faster now, as I made my way south down the avenue, staring up at the blackness that took over the sky.
I will never forget the next moments of that day: the vision of the South Tower falling, the sound of my mom’s voice when we finally got through to each other, the feeling of complete and utter hopelessness as we were told we couldn’t get off of the island, and the absolute surrender to whatever was to come next.
But that's not all that stays with me now when I look down at the newly rising tower on the south tip of Manhattan. That’s not what stays with me when someone starts talking about that day or reminisces about their own personal 9/11 experience.
What stays with me is this: on that day, in that moment, for a fleeting time in our history, this city was united and people came together. It’s actually something I’ve tried really hard to hold onto.
When I first got to this city, it was shiny and new and filled with possibilities. It was also grungy and cold and filled with strangers. It was the place I’d dreamed about and nothing like I’d thought it would be. It was the city I figured I’d play in for a few years and then leave to get on with my "real" life. But it’s the city that ended up cradling me during the craziest and most exciting decade of my life so far.
I’m not interested in debating the politics of what lead to or came after that day. I’m not interested in the conspiracy theories and the what if’s that will forever surround that moment and this country. What I’m interested in is holding onto that feeling of being united and remembering that it’s possible. Not in some Pollyanna, “let’s just hold hands and sing Kumbaya” kind of way, either. But in the practical “I’ve seen this happen, I know it’s possible," kind of way. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, because lots of people can go through their entire lives wondering if it’s possible or not. And now I don’t have to wonder.
People can be incredibly kind and generous and people can be horribly malicious and cruel. And on that day, in those moments, I witnessed both in their purest forms. I saw it in the crumbling towers and felt it as I was guided through the city by a man covered in ash and rubble from the North Tower from which he ran.
So today, just like every year on this day, I choose to look at the skyline I’ve grown to call home and remember the darkness and the light. To know that it’s possible, to take a breath and relax as tourists stop in the middle of the sidewalk in awe of the city I sometimes take for granted, and to remember those who don’t have the luxury of being here today to know what’s possible.
None of us will ever forget, I don’t even think we could if we tried. But what I hope we can also remember is that it’s possible to come together, it’s possible to be just a little bit kinder, just a little bit more patient, just a little bit…more.
It’s possible. Please don’t forget.