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    Ten years later

    Ten years later

    The Financial District is on lockdown this morning, as one would expect on the anniversary of any act of war that attracts thousands to pay their respects where their loved ones died. A lot of my friends in the city have been posting their reflections of the day online, and some of my older friends know people who were killed. I don’t have a tremendous amount to contribute in terms of anecdotes and I would have to be a drama queen to somehow make it sound as if my experience constituted the same pains as any relative of someone who died in that building. I’m not reminded of 9/11 when I look at old family pictures, and that’s something for which I am tremendously thankful. However, I do have a story to tell that is similar to many of kids in my generation and I think is worth posting:

    I was eleven years old on September 11, 2001. It was the first Tuesday of the school year and I remember thinking that it was a particularly gorgeous day. I remember hearing about the attacks from friends in my middle school and flatly denying their claims. It wasn’t until about 12 PM that a teacher acknowledged what had happened and I started to panic. My grandfather and several of my uncles work downtown in the Financial District. If a building fell, had it hit their workplaces? It was certainly likely; they did work only a quarter-mile away on Pearl St. Where was my father, a contractor in NY, working that day? What happened to Steven’s mother? I knew she worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. The afternoon that ensued was hellish as I spent it wondering if anyone I knew had died.

    It was less pressing for me to figure out why the attacks had happened, which I suppose is the only difference between my experience on 9/11 and that of anyone who doesn’t have a familial connection to lower Manhattan. Though, ten years after the fact, I remember 9/11 less as a day of fear and more as a bookmark in my personal history.

    I don’t remember being conscious of much that was going on politically in the first half of my life. I have my personal memories, like my trips to Ireland, the beach, soccer practice, my fifth grade production of ‘Oliver!’, etc. but I really only remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal as a national political event that made me wonder what was going on outside of elementary school. After 9/11, I started to read the newspaper (The New York Post, though I later turned to The Wall Street Journal) and I remember caring a lot about killing bin Laden as that would somehow quench my thirst for justice, or reverse 9/11’s events.

    I paint the 90s as a time of safety and security, a glossy Eden filled with soccer games and free trade agreements. The 2000s, though, have been pretty crappy: war, the awkwardness of puberty, financial crises and recoveries, the 2008 election, applying to college, etc. I think a lot of my friends in my generation remember 9/11 as the marker between two worlds in the same way, and we hate it for it. A lot of these things would have happened regardless of if the Twin Towers had fallen (I was bound to pay taxes at some point…), but causation and correlation are a messy business.

    And so, I think my generation has a particular distain for 9/11 as robbing them of an innocence and prosperity that would have certainly been challenged anyway. I know I have.

    I apologize for the self-centered post, but I can’t write about much else. After all, I can’t  fathom the terror the victims of 9/11 endured as they knew they were going to die, and I can’t really write about the national discussion that ensued since I didn’t really understand it. I can, however, write how I seemed to an eleven year old who lived twenty minutes away.

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    I was reading one of the computer game forums I frequented at the time, when I saw a post about it. It was one of the worst possible air accident scenarios: a widebody going down in a major metropolitan area. We tried to figure out how it could have happened, what chain of mistakes could route a failing plane into such a highly populated area, and then the second one hit.

    Oddly enough, I didn’t see the footage until years later. I didn’t have a TV at the time, and the news never showed it again after 9/11.

    My mom and dad were 10 and 13 y/os respectively at the time of Pearl Harbor; and to this day they can recall that bright Sunday in Los Angeles.

    I was 9 when JFK was assassinated and I remember my teacher going into the cloakroom to weep. It was also my awakening to real evil as I just couldn’t understand someone deliberately choosing to murder another human being. To me, it had been simple, you don’t shoot someone else for no reason and certainly not the President of the USA. Not the man who was the picture on my 4th grade classroom wall, under the flag and next to pics of Washington & Lincoln.

    By the time the Israeli 6 day war started on my 13th birthday and RFK was assassinated on my 14th, I was fully engaged in following world events and politics.

    […] her own reflections yesterday, Kathleen wrote that her generation was “[robbed] of an innocence and prosperity that would have certainly […]

    I posted a comment regarding St. Paul’s Chapel on an earlier thread of yours.

    Just following the events of 9/11, I received a telephone call from my older brother (6 years), who has lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee for many decades. Much as nearly everyone did at the time, we talked about the horrors of 9/11, and about the terrible impact it would have on families, and on the country.

    After a bit, he asked me if I had happened to hear or read anything about the fate of St. Paul’s. In his own mind, he was certain, I am sure, that it had been destroyed or at least extensively damaged by the conflagration in the collapse of the WTC complex.

    Way back then (early 1960s) he and I had shared a small apartment in Greenwich Village for a brief period, one that was located on West 10th Street, just off of Sheridan Square. I had just graduated from high school and, was utterly uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life. At his invitation, I had moved to New York from Wilmington, Delaware, where I grew up, in order to try and get a handle on the working world — to grow up a little bit. Within a year, I was in college, having quickly learned that I was not going to make any significant impact without further preparation.

    My brother was a junior officer in the United States Navy, at the time and was stationed in New York. He worked in the Federal Office Building down at 90 Church Street, and as a result of his modest means, and a desire to save whatever he could (he was getting married at the end of September of that year) he packed and took his lunch to work in a brown paper bag.

    He ate that lunch, every single day, on the grounds of St. Paul’s Chapel. It was a sanctuary for him.

    There was no WTC at the time, and the skyline of Manhattan has since change on a few occasions.

    After he called back in September 2001, it took me several hours of searching to confirm what seemed to be a miracle — that St. Paul’s had somehow survived intact, and even though we had not talked as often as we should have over the years, nothing during those frightening days following 9/11 served as a beacon of hope for the future quite like being able to call and tell him of that little splash of joy in the sea of sorrow.

    Since then, he and his wife visited the New York we all got together and went around the city, which included taking a little trip down to see, among other things, the WTC clean-up site. And while we were there we walked past St. Pauls on Vesey Street. We passed the spot where the felled sycamore had stood, the one that protected the building and the churchyard from damage. And we briefly went in to see the display panels of memorabilia. I looked over at him at one point and could see the tears welling in his eyes, that is until those in mine partially blurred my vision.


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