Sometime around 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, the phone rang in my Brooklyn apartment. I had been out the night before, and with a night shift scheduled for Tuesday, 10 a.m. was an hour I had intended to sleep through.
The phone woke me, though. And on the other end was my mother, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Are you OK?"
In a haze, I just said, "Sure. Why?"
And then she told me what had happened, or at least as much as anyone knew of what had happened at that point. And like everyone else, I was glued to the TV for the rest of the day. I was in a strange position — living in New York, but in a lot of ways, relatively unaffected. I didn’t know anyone who was physically injured, or worse yet, who didn’t make it. I knew people who were greatly affected, of course, but I escaped unscathed in a lot of ways.
I spent the day working from my little apartment, trying to check in with friends and letting people know that I was OK. And trying to stay online, since it was still the dialup era. It was a couple of days before I was able to go back to our office in Manhattan. I still remember the first subway ride I took across the Manhattan Bridge, seeing the open space where the towers used to be.
It’s striking to me the number of things I still remember vividly. I remember what I did the night before, extremely clearly. I worked until well into the early evening, probably 7:30 or 8 o’clock, before going out to have barbecue and a beer and watch Monday Night Football. For that reason, I’ll always remember that the attacks happened on a Tuesday.
I remember walking back down 14th Street on the first day I actually returned to the office, just walking all the way from our office on 9th Avenue to Union Square, and just taking it all in. I remember that I stopped for dinner at Taco Bell. Little things, little visuals that are still fresh five years later.
By far, the most striking sight over the following days was the flyers. On every telephone pole, every open space, every window, people had posted flyers with photos and contact information, trying to find their friends and family members. Even for someone who didn’t lose anyone, it’s still hard to make myself remember those flyers. The memory of them is still heartbreaking — I can only imagine being in the position of someone missing a spouse, parent, son, daughter…
But remarkably, the atmosphere that I recall in the city over the ensuing days wasn’t one of despair. It was overwhelmingly supportive and communal. I’ve never experienced anything like it, before that or since. The strength of New York, and of people in this country, was truly remarkable. I have my bouts with misanthropy, but it wasn’t possible in those days. As much as people were angry and frustrated and scared at what had been done to us, the supportiveness and togetherness were genuinely inspiring.
I don’t know how to end this, and I don’t know that I’ve done any justice to the events or added anything to the discussion. But I’ve been thinking back to that day all day. Above all, I’m thankful for my own wellbeing and that of the people I love who might have been wounded or even lost. I guess the best closer is this…
Please think back today not only to Sept. 11, 2001, but to Sept. 12 and 13 and 14 of that year. Think about the perspective and generosity and everything else good that you found in yourself and in other people over those days, and try and summon some of it again. Thanks, and thank you for reading.
-M, listening to "Flying" by Living Colour (if you know the song, you know why).