Ten years ago. TEN. Blue skies. Slightly crisp air. A normal day. At home, on hold for a tri-regional conference call with the TV on. News reports a plane hit the towers. I saw and thought, immediately, that is NOT an accident. When you’re from New York, you know that you can’t hit the towers or any other building by accident. You typically fly up one of the rivers, high above the city, but close enough that you can easily identify the towering buildings. But no, you can’t accidentally hit one. Not possible.
Colleagues abroad listening as I said my brother in law works down there. I have to go. Second tower is hit – I see it live on TV. I call my sister. She is trying to find my brother in law by phone. My baby niece is with her; she stayed home that day for a doctor appointment or some baby related reason. I didn’t have to worry about her, but where was he?
I call my Dad. Suddenly, you can’t get through by phone to anyone. Busy signals. Beep beep beep beep. Where is my Dad? My cousin who works in midtown? My friends and colleagues?
Finally, Dad answers, crying. What is happening, where is your sister, he asks. I tell him she is fine. He cries more, relieved. We are looking for her husband. Dad cries again. Dad is a crier by nature, but he is also a native New Yorker. What is happening to his city? Our city?
I go to my friend’s house nearby. We are in shock, unsure of what to do. We drive to the local hospital to donate blood. They are not accepting donations. Perhaps they realize before we do that there is no need because thousands won’t survive the heinous terrorist act. We leave, feeling empty and defeated. What else can we do? We gather at a friend’s restaurant. We all look at the little TV. We are all in shock. The sky is still so blue. I think it is odd how nature doesn’t understand what is going on below.
The skies are silent. Living north of the city, they are typically full of planes passing over to Westchester airport, LaGuardia, Newark or JFK. Silence. Eeery silence. Like the earth stood still for a bit.
Later that night, my sister says my brother in law abandoned his car and walked home. Across the bridge. Miles. Alive. Thankfully, alive. I’ve never loved my brother in law more than in that moment.
Later I discover that two coworkers from my days at New York University lost family members. One a wife, the other a brother.
Today, I find myself having to explain less and less that Muslims are not responsible for the acts that took place on 9/11. Terrorists did this. Sick, sadistic, angry people did this. They may have called themselves Muslim, but that is not what 99.9% of Muslims believe. Those men were simply terrorists. Cowards.
But today is a hard day for me. I have moved away from my beloved city like many New Yorkers did. The sky where I am today is blue like on that day. It reminds me of how beautifully that day started. It reminds me the pain that the world felt. It reminds me of a horrific decision by our president to start a war.
The blue sky reminds me of loss. Of people who were just living their daily routines, of soldiers and innocent people abroad, of the pain felt by those who were left behind, of the children who never got to know their parents, aunts, uncles, etc. It reminds me of the firefighters who were so brave, who loved this city, who lived to save people, who died trying.
It reminds me of an entire religious community that has spent a decade having to justify their existence in this country and many who still live in fear.
But today, I’m concentrating hard on hope and healing. I am thinking about my next visit to NY and how I will take time to see the footprints where the towers stood and to reflect upon the countless visits I had taken there. The time my mom took me and my Mexican exchange student brother, Rodrigo, there to gaze upward at the shiny silver and intricate metal work. The awe on his face when he realized how very big the towers were. The time when I was very little and my parents told me about the man who put a wire across the two buildings roofs and walked, without a net, way up in the clouds. The times, as an adult, that I took the circle line boat with visiting friends past the towers and saw them shining in the sunlight or their lights dancing in the mist. The times we drove in from New Jersey, perhaps the best view of the skyline, and saw the massive structures glistening along the water. Those are the memories I will forever hold close to my heart, the ones that I will always protect. The ones of them standing tall, solid and regal.
And when I return to NY, I will honor all that was lost on that day. But I will look forward. And I will be hopeful.
Peace to you all.
Please enjoy this video about the “Man on a Wire” and remember the beauty of the Twin Towers along with me: