On September 11, 2001, I was working in Athens, GA. I got to work very early as was my habit at the time and was able to watch dawn spread across the sky while I worked. I didn’t know anything had happened until people start getting to the office talking about the plane crash. And then another plane crash. And another.
I had clients in NYC and even some that had offices in the twin towers. One of my coworkers had family working in the World Trade Center and wasn’t sure if they were OK. Someone said there was a stolen moving van next to the federal building downtown, not far from our office. It was a crazy, confusing, emotional day.
I’d never been to NYC before that day. I would make my first trip to the city in December 2001 to take advantage of the slightly less expensive hotels and to spend some money in a city that I wanted to help rebuild. I flatly refused to visit Ground Zero and it would be several years before I would make my way down to where the towers fell.
Even though I was almost 1,000 miles from NYC at the time, those attacks still hit me like a punch in the gut. When I visited the NYC memorial museum a few years ago, I found parts of it to be claustrophobic and almost panic-inducing. I understand the need some people have for the memorial, but I don’t like it. It’s like a giant tombstone sitting in a place where I would prefer to see a gigantic, million-storey building in the shape of a hand flipping the bird. I would prefer to see defiance instead of solemnity in that spot.
I’m not good with big feelings like that. I either make inappropriate jokes or scream at the top of my lungs.
When 9/11 happened, I felt very strongly that the memorial was a bad choice. It was so bad, I felt at the time, that it was actually offensive to me. Today, for reasons I can’t give, I get it. I get the need to stop there for a moment and reflect on what was done, what it cost us, why we get up after being knocked down, why taking the moment to reflect is right and healthy, why rage and defiance also have their places.
For me, New York City has always been THE City. And when I did finally visit in December of 2001 with my best friend, it felt like home to me. It felt so natural and comfortable that I ended up moving there in 2006. I just love the mix of different people and businesses. The density of human accomplishments is staggering and there’s always something to do. I moved away at the end of 2011, just shy of living there for five years, and I often miss it.
I didn’t really “know” NYC before it happened, but 9/11 didn’t change New York for me in any significant way. After living there, my opinion of the city is less idealized than it was before I lived there, but if it were feasible against my other values and goals in life, I would move back in a heartbeat. But as I think about 9/11/2001 today, it’s strange to me that those terrorist attacks really didn’t change the city in my mind.
9/11 was certainly a horror. Literally thousands of people have died as a result of those attacks. My heart breaks when I think about the people leaping to their deaths to escape the flames. And, now, 17 years later there are a couple of giant holes in the ground, a beautiful transit center, a scary museum, and a zillion people meandering around in that spot.
Today, I didn’t even realize that it was the anniversary of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks until some friends commented on a “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” cartoon that I shared on Facebook yesterday. They felt that the timing of sharing that cartoon was in poor taste. (It was. Sorry.) But I left it up because I was genuinely shocked that the significance of the date completely escaped me. It was a double fist pump for me. It’s just so crazy that something so big and so emotional seems so distant to me today.
Yes, if I really think about it, I remember. And I won’t ever forget even though I have a hype allergy that makes me roll my eyes when people say “Never forget.” But the fact that I have to make the effort to remember has me thinking hard about it all.
And I just don’t know what to think. What I do think hasn’t changed a lot in substance, but the ratios of various emotions to one another has changed. I still feel shock, anger, confusion as well as sadness and loss.
Looking at where we are today — with Donald Trump playing the role of President of the United States (but reviewers almost universally agree his acting is terrible and the writing is worse) — September 11, 2001 feels like a completely different universe.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just because I was early in my career. Maybe it’s because I was still growing into who I am back then. Maybe it’s because so much has happened in general in these 17 years. That IS kind of how life is.
But I also can’t help but think it’s more than that. And I also can’t help but wonder if it’s not because of 9/11 that things are so radically different from how they were back then.
So, as I get ready to turn in for the evening, reflecting on September 11, 2001, that’s where my mind and heart is. How did this change us? Has it changed us so much that we’ve forgotten where we came from? How we got here? Where we were trying to go?
PHOTO CREDIT: Feature photo from Wikipedia