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9.11 – A Native’s Perspective from down South 5 years later

911.jpg acnatta/Flickr

It was our day of infamy. These angel’s wings hold my hometown in its grasp from Staten Island. They were dediciated as the Staten Island 9.11 Memorial in September 2004. It is entitled “Postcards” and includes 267 silhouettes of faces; one for each person from Staten Island that perished on September 11, 2001. It was designed by Masayuki Sono. It reminds us of lives lost but also of hope as the rebuilding process continues.

I woke up that morning in 2001 in Savannah to the sounds of Katie Couric and Matt Lauer reporting about what at first appeared to be a seriously deadly accident. I do not know what many people think of when they think of 9/11, but for me I think of several things, most notably the two buildings that helped guide me towards the career I’m in today.

I think of the view from my parents’ bedroom as a child and of hoping to one day work in the World Trade Center as an architect, looking over my hometown everyday with pride. I think of the sounds of my mother crying as I led her through several Hail Marys on the telephone as she watched both of those buildings fall from her bedroom window, taking innocent lives and dreams with them. I think of hearing my brother finally talk to me 10 hours after the first plane hit, telling me of “a dark I’ve never seen before,” a phrase I saw used again recently. I had people telling me he was fine since his office was one block away. He told me later that he’d gotten seven blocks away and was still enveloped in that darkness when the towers came down.

I remember how grateful I was when my boss Jean made me come to work at the inn that day, knowing that getting me behind the desk was better than letting me sit at home worrying. No one called the inn that day to book a room, except one person. The call was from a woman in Japan that had just made a reservation with me the week before to visit Savannah in October. She simply told me that she was praying for those that suffered.

I think of the first time I went back home after the events of September 2001. Of flying into the city on a drizzly morning and barely catching a glance at Ground Zero through the clouds on the final approach into LaGuardia. Of riding the bus to get to Battery Park and the look on the driver’s face when she saw me realize where I was in town (instantly realizing that the Winter Garden in Battery Park City should not have been visible from where I was looking as it would have been blocked by one of the towers). I think of a famous piece of sculpture that sat in the plaza as it sits in its current home, eternal flame burning, reminding us to never forget as well as resilience. I think of the first time I took a look into Ground Zero from ground level, hearing helicopters fly overhead while people tried to return to a normal life. Of the pictures of those still lost hanging on the fence of an area church, a fire station that I once saw bustling with life now silent and boarded up. I remember the first time that I looked out the window when I got home, to see what had happened to my hometown. I remember crying then the same way I did on 9/11.

Everything I’d ever done prior to 9/11 was done for the passion of it all. I didn’t care about anything else but the satisfaction of getting it done, and getting it done for the betterment of others. There are some that still don’t believe that someone can be that way. I hope one day they may be able to. That said, most everything I did for the two years after the towers collapsed was based on self-satisfaction. I lost all need to satisfy what others wanted; I only wanted to make sure that I enjoyed myself as much as possible before the next attack occurred. It caused some self destruction to occur, relationships to be lost and opportunities to be squandered. I’ve since realized that I couldn’t live in that bubble of fear. Life is an opportunity for hope and giving, at least for me. I’ve been able to work back towards that while learning some more about myself in the process.

I remember how the virtual world slowed to a crawl as people turned to it for information in a way that we’ve never turned back from. The need for it reached a fevered pitch as people began to demand information at previously insane levels. We were all rushing to live to die as we did not know what the next day would bring.

We enter this day with the hope that we never forget, much in the same way that my parents do not forget where they were when JFK was assassinated or my grandmother when she could remember the important events of World War II. Before this event, there were some in my generation that said that the death of Princess Diana would be my generation’s watershed moment. Funny, I would have thought (and hoped, unwillingly) it to be Challenger’s fate after hearing the words, “Go with throttle up.”

We’ve had two events occur in the last five years that have devastated the resolve of the American people. The damage from Katrina hurt our soul; 9/11 damaged our ability to hope and took away some of our innocence. If you’re a New Yorker, you remember the first time the towers were attacked and of the way it shaped that day in our history. The image of the towers that dominated the skyline of my hometown as they came down will most likely dominate the screens of most U.S. citizens today.


We must always remember this day; however we must not be consumed by it. We must keep the memories of those that perished that day in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. alive in our collective hearts, but let us not forget those that suffer today or those that were able to survive and who must suffer with the memories of the day for the rest of their lives. We must keep those that have suffered through terrorism before and since 9/11 in our minds, remembering that the pain must stop for all who suffer with the memories. Babies are still born, dreams are still eternally hopeful for many and we must remember that the journey continues. But we must not forget. As history allows us to move forward in a way that many still do not truly understand. Something is still missing, but hopefully we’ll find it soon.

Best wishes for you and yours this day and always.


Published inCommentaryNew York