Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11, eleven years later

One of my favorite things to do in New York is admire the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn.
This photo, snapped by my then-boyfriend now-husband, was taken three days before 9/11.

My heart is heavy every September 11th. My thoughts go to the brave men and women who carried the burdens of the world on their shoulders. My soul grieves for the lives lost. My prayers go to the ones left behind. 

I was in Brooklyn that fateful morning. I remember walking down the stairs from the Marcy Avenue subway station to the screaming of sirens. "Why so many firetrucks? What's the ruckus?" I wondered as I made my way to the local senior center. My back faced Manhattan. I had no idea the North Tower was already ablaze.

As I gathered interviews for my story (it was election day in New York-- everyone had an opinion about the mayoral race), a man suddenly burst through the center's front door. "We're being attacked! We're being attacked!" he shouted to everyone in the room. We rushed outside and found more people gathered on the street. Everyone lifted their heads west. As I looked toward the sky, I saw it. One of the towers was gone. Thick, black smoke billowed from the other.

"Oh my God! It's the end of the world!" a woman standing next to me cried. 

Have you ever had a moment where you feel like you're in a movie? I felt like that, standing out there in the middle of the street with hundreds of complete strangers. It was as if we were all extras in a weird sci-fi alien film from the fifties. What a gorgeous day it was. Perfect blue skies. Not a cloud to be seen for miles. This, the backdrop for the most horrific thing we had ever witnessed.

The following days were a blur. New Yorkers, getting off a bus coming from Wall Street, covered in white ash. F-16s flying overhead. Air so thick with smoke you could hardly breathe. Flyers plastered all over the city: "We Need Your Help," "Missing at WTC 2,"  "Help! If You Have Ever Seen Him Call..." Filing story upon story about memorials and candlelight vigils. Firefighters in dress blues collapsing from grief at yet another funeral. Ash from Ground Zero making its way 130 blocks to my apartment window.

Flyers like these were plastered all over Manhattan.
A sea of faces. Each one of them important and cherished by somebody.

I already loved New York, but 9/11 made the ties unbreakable. People bond deeply over the loss of a family member or loved one. Can the same thing be said about a city? 

Last year, I couldn't imagine being anywhere but New York on the 10th anniversary. So Caden and I made the trip together-- just mother and son. He was born four years after 9/11. How will I explain this to him? Will he understand? What kind of significance will it have for someone growing up in a post-9/11 world? These were some of the thoughts I wrestled with during our visit.

Caden's first trip to New York. The Freedom Tower is reflected 
behind us. At the time this photo was taken, the 104-story building
was halfway complete. (Photo courtesy Sarah Yi; 9/12/11) 

Outside St. Paul's Chapel, Manhattan's oldest surviving church building and just one block from Ground Zero, Caden and I took a moment to reflect. "Why are there so many white ribbons everywhere?" he asked in earnest. "Well, we want to remember all the people who went to heaven," I told him, hoping my answer was good enough. I went on to explain what happened that day. The planes. The crash. The people who died. There was silence for a few seconds. "Mom," my 5-year-old started. "Can we go eat pizza now?"

Perhaps it was just too much to take in. Or maybe in his child's mind, Caden received my words and filed them away for use at a later date. Whatever the reason, I was relieved by his growling stomach. 

Outside St. Paul's Chapel, taking a moment to commemorate 
the 10th anniversary. (Photo: Sarah Yi, 9/12/11) 

My husband and I want to write the next chapter of our lives in New York. Plans are being made to move our family from California to this magnificent metropolis. We wish we were there now, but we're trusting in a perfect timing that is beyond our control. For now, I am with you, New York, in heart and in spirit.

Tribute in Light as seen from Brooklyn Heights.

My good friend and fellow New Yorker at heart, Sarah Yi, wrote this lovely poem commemorating today's anniversary: 

my (heart) grieves, aches, and mourns, 
11 years later 

but o, new york, 
what beauty and triumph 
you've created and found 
out of sorrow and loss

my (heart) misses you 
my (heart) belongs to you 
my (heart) remembers you 

i (heart) you, new york. 

In memoriam. (Image by Shiho Johnson; 9/11/12)