I stood outside the Brooks Brothers store on Liberty Plaza this morning and said a silent prayer.
I’ve been doing this little ceremony every year on September 11 since the planes crashed into the World Trade Center 12 years ago.
There’s some scaffolding outside the store obscuring the view of the Freedom Towers site, but I have no trouble recalling that beautiful late summer day in 2001 when I stood in the same spot as a jet slammed into the opposite side of the South Tower and sent a massive sheet of orange flame billowing across the street.
I can still hear that plane streak through the air in the seconds before impact and the screams of the people around me as we saw the world we thought we knew come to a horrifying end.
We all ran, ran like rats, terrified that we were going to be killed any second. People cried and screamed up to the heavens for mercy. Nobody knew what the hell was going on, why we were being attacked.
I remember taking refuge in a senior’s home near the Manhattan Bridge as the monstrous dust cloud from the fallen South Tower made seeing and breathing next to impossible.
It would soon be followed by another blinding wave of debris when the North Tower collapsed.
“This is a part of history,” an elderly man said to one of the women living at the center.
“I don’t know what to be part of history,” the woman replied.
Neither did I. And I still don’t. I would give anything to undo that nightmare, to rewire history so the planes never crashed, the towers never fell, and all those innocent people never died.
I wish I could delete the memory of that walk over the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of other refugees while fighter jets streaked through the sky over our heads. I would gladly eliminate that feeling of terror and vulnerability as I wondered if more suicide attackers were heading our way.
I want to live in the pre-9/11 world where I never worried about being annihilated, where I didn’t have to take off my shoes, belt, and jacket whenever I wanted to board an airplane. I want to go back to the time when I didn’t know that these psychotics who could so callously slaughter innocent people even existed.
That’s all impossible, of course. We’re all part of history whether we like it or not.
“…and ye shall be my witnesses…”
I wonder what happened to some of the many people I met that day.
There was a Japanese man who was so horrified by what he had seen that he could barely function. I had to take him by the hand and lead him around like a child.
I finally left him with the super at an office building on Water Street. He was so far from home; I hope he made it back to his family.
I think about the people whom I walked across the bridge with—one lady said she kept an eye on my hairless head so she wouldn’t lose track of me—where is she today?
There was an attorney, who had come into Manhattan from Long Island for just this one day, whom I guided to the LIRR Station at Atlantic Avenue. I never saw her again but we exchanged emails for several years on the anniversary.
There were people on the Brooklyn side of the bridge who offered us bottles of water and access to cell phones.
And what about that wonderful man who took it upon himself to drive his van up Fourth Avenue and make stops along the R Line after the subways had been shut down? He saved me and several other people from a very long walk home.
I’ve often said that 9/11 was a day when we saw humanity at its very worst and its very best. I want to believe that the human race is better than what we all saw that day, that we can improve, and rise about that savagery.
I want to believe that, but I don’t have much hope.
This world will never be the same for the people who lost loved ones on 9/11. Their pain continues long after the speeches and the ceremonies and I try to remember their suffering, their endless sorrow when I start bitching about my own stupid little problems.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson from that terrible experience, but to be honest, I do more than my share of complaining.
I was looking for something remotely intelligent to say on this twelfth anniversary and I finally recalled a line I read while on vacation in Toronto last week.
I was on the bus out to Niagara Falls and, instead of being excited like a normal person, I was feeling agitated. I was worried about something going wrong on the trip.
We could get into a traffic accident, the boat might sink; the Loch Ness Monster might make a surprise appearance at Niagara and swallow me whole.
I can conjure up a disaster scenario with the greatest of ease.
I was also feeling lonely, since I was traveling by myself, and I would have no one to really share my adventure with.
And then I happened to look up as we passed St. Andrew’s Church in downtown Toronto and read the message on the electric sign standing in front of the building.
“Remember this day that you are loved,” it said.
I’m still shocked at how much comfort I got from reading that one simple phrase. I immediately relaxed, sat back, and prepared to enjoy the day. I felt like I mattered, that I was worthy.
It’s not much, but it’s all I can to say to those people who lost friends and family on September 11. I don’t know what it feels like to be you; I have no concept of the agony, rage, and anguish you must feel every day.
But, for what it’s worth, please try and remember that on this day and every day, you are loved.