IN THE SUBURBS: Sept. 11 changed us forever
During a recent weekend in Manhattan, as we walked from the ferry landing in Battery Park, I gazed at the new World Trade Center Freedom Tower with a sense of wonder and reflection. Fifteen years ago, that building wasn’t there. Two other regal towers stood in that space, accenting the New York skyline until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists changed life in this city forever.
That attack, which used airliners as weapons and snuffed out the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent souls, touched lives around the world and still haunts me. And now the anniversary is here again.
This Sunday, loved ones and friends of many of those victims will once again gather at the site that came to be known as ground zero for the roll call of names. As each name is read, these survivors will shed new tears, reflect and try to move one more step away from the memories of this senseless tragedy.
I still shudder when I reflect on the short span of time that turned our world upside down.
The first plane hit the north tower of the Trade Center about 8:40 a.m., just as we were beginning a staff meeting in our offices on 21st and Park Avenue South. We all thought it was a small plane, until the second plane hit the south tower and we realized that this was no accident. Within two hours, the indestructible World Trade Center towers had collapsed in rubble.
We learned that a third plane had hit the Pentagon and soon after there was a fourth plane that slammed into an open field in Shanksville, Pa. Only later that day did we learn that terrorists planned to crash that fourth plane into the White House, but brave civilians gave their lives by storming the cockpit, screaming “Let’s Roll” and sending the plane into its fatal nose dive.
The events of that day will always remain a blur for me, almost as if the day has frozen in a time warp. And for the past 15 years, I have continued to grieve and weep silently whenever Sept. 11 arrives.
So what is life like 15 years after 9/11? I spoke this past week with several of my colleagues and friends for a reality check.
My close friend Bob, from Fairfield, who commuted with me regularly to the city, remembered it was a gorgeous Tuesday morning and not too warm. As Bob, his wife Lynn and I walked through Grand Central Terminal, slivers of sunlight filtered through the windows, creating almost a holy radiance. As we went our separate ways, we agreed it was going to be a beautiful day. How ironic that was.
“I remember it quite vividly,” Bob said. “It is still hard to comprehend what happened. Some of the things that stick in my mind are hearing about the first plane striking the tower, then the second and watching the towers crumble like cardboard. I remember getting on Metro-North later that day and seeing people covered in soot and dirt. At every stop, EMS workers were getting on the train to see if anyone needed medical assistance.
“And I remember seeing the smoke from lower Manhattan for what seemed like months and wondering if terrorists were truly living among us. I pray that I never experience something like this again.”
Jose, our social studies teacher said, “I remember the day like it was yesterday and I can’t believe how fast 15 years went. That day took away our innocence. It made people wary of flying and it made us think about what or who might be lurking right around the corner. Fifteen years later, nothing is the same.”
Kathy, one of our English teachers, said after the tragedy, we had come together and were there for each other. She added sadly that now we’ve squandered so much of that unity with our foreign policy problems. Another thing Kathy remembered was when comedy and irony shows went dark after the tragedy because no one knew what to write about.
Our health teacher Mark shared that he was just 14 on 9/11 and was in eighth grade. He said he went home and watched the news broadcasts over and over. “Today, I’m just more concerned about everything in terms of safety.”
Kanishea, one of our teaching assistants, refused to return to school for more than a week after 9/11. “I’ve never stopped being anxious, and I still worry every time I travel to the city.”
I wanted to share a last vignette from our chemistry teacher, Andrew. “It was the Saturday after 9/11, and I told my wife we were going to McSorley’s tavern near NYU,” he said. “It was my way of going to a wake for that event. Part of New York City died on 9/11.
“There was a guy drinking alone in a corner. When we invited him to join us, he said he had been been walking to work that morning after a night of carousing and he was late. He saw the building where he worked collapse.”
Andrew said that as the day progressed at McSorley’s, firemen came in after funeral services for their comrades. “There were many beers that day,” he said, “much sadness and the knowledge that from that day forward, the world was going to change. New York had become vulnerable to the attacks of the vicious for the purpose of nothing but some misguided ideology.”
I believe we have to continue honoring the memory of those who perished in this terrible tragedy. No matter how many years go by, we must never forget how terrorists robbed us of our innocence and tainted a city and our lives forever.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.