Many of us who were witnesses to the September 11th attacks will remember where we were when we heard and began seeing the disturbing images of an attacked NYC, Washington, DC, and downed plane in Stonycreek, PA. I always figured I would reflect back on that day when the ten year anniversary came up, and openly discuss my feelings of my memories related to 9/11.
I should first set the scene of what my life was 10 years ago. I had recently turned 22, was fresh out of college, and was about to start my first job in Philadelphia in a couple weeks. The economy was in a recession as the dot com bubble had burst, and I felt very lucky to have found work. Since I hadn’t moved yet, I was living at my parents house in Fair Haven, NJ that summer.
I distinctly remember first hearing about the attacks. My mother came into my room and woke me up. With fear in her voice she said, “something horrible is happening in New York City,” and her eyes filled up with tears. I instantly grew concerned and jumped out of bed. It was around 10am and I recall sitting down to watch the TV in shock and wondering what exactly had happened. I was quite scared myself because Fair Haven is only about 8 miles south west of New York City across the Raritan Bay.
What I don’t remember is the sequence of events or fine details of the day. But I remember a few things. My friend Meredith called me at some point later in the morning asking if we were going to hang out. She had no idea what was going on. Part of me didn’t want to tell her, because she had said at one point to me that summer, “if the world is ending, I don’t want to know about it.”. But I told her she should turn on the TV, which she did while on the phone with me, and she as shocked reaction as one would expect. Her uncle worked at the Pentagon, and she quickly became very worried about his safety.
I know at some point the phone lines got jammed up. My friend Steve had recently started working in the Washington, DC for a defense contractor and no one could reach him. You couldn’t reach neighbors. I didn’t have a cell phone at the time, so the only alternatives for communicating were email and AOL instant messenger. Eventually we heard that Meredith’s uncle was safe and Steve sent an email hours later saying he was fine.
In the days that followed, the closeness of what happened and its impacts became more evident. Several people in my hometown had been killed in the attacks in NYC. I drove to the beach and could see the smoldering city across the water. And the worst part was the day I smelled it. The air must have shifted and sent an electrical smoke type of smell across our area. I went to a church and prayed. Our town got together to grieve at a candlelight vigil. It was the first time I truly felt my neighbors came together for each other.
I moved not too long after September 11th. I had called my new job to speak with my boss since travel was part of the work and asked how that would be affected. She of course didn’t know, but said if I was very concerned and wanted to rethink taking the job that was okay, she understood. On moving day, my movers were Iraeli, and asked about a pin I was wearing. It was a ribbon I think to remember those who had died. They said to me, “you Americans are very naiive. We great up dealing with attacks in Israel almost everyday.” I didn’t know what to say, but I felt they were right in some respect–for decades we were safe from many harms that other countries and cultures lived with almost everyday.
During my first weekend in my new place Steve came up and we went to Seton Hall University where our friend Mike was going to school. We had Yankees tickets. It was our tradition back then to see one Yankee game a year together. I don’t know why we decided to go–probably along the lines of we should live our lives and not give in–but we made our way up there via train and NYC subway. I remember they confiscated my umbrella at the Stadium. I’ve been to many Yankees games and in the similar vain of my hometown community coming together, Yankee fans and New Yorkers created an energy at that game I will never forget. At some point during the game we were asked to move down, and people around us started cheering and chanting “USA”. Several NYC Firefighters took seats to the left of us and I soon got on my feet to applaud them.
A month or so later the Yankees were in the World Series for the fifth time in six years. Of course, people assume the Yankees would win given their streak, but also how much it would mean to NYC after what had happened. But they didn’t and lost in one of the more dramatic fashions for a World Series. Buster Onley would call it “The last night of the Yankee dynasty”.
Since that day and time, I look back and realize I entered this world as an adult with far greater uncertainty than recent generations. For the first time on my own independently in life, I was forced to face a new danger everyday in my life called terrorism. The first time I got on a plane during my job, an Arab man, was boarding in front of me and they pulled him aside. That is when I knew certain people’s freedoms were being affected even if in the name of keeping our country safe.
It’s now ten years later, and writing this brings back a lot of these initial feelings I have. In those ten years I’ve lived and/or worked in major cities: Philadelphia, New York City, and now Washington, DC. Even when I lived in New York City, I never visited the World Trade Center site. It didn’t feel right to me to be at a location that had become a tourist attraction of sorts, where thousands of people died so tragically and were not buried properly.
There are many things I remember the last 10 years. I remember when the Republican National Convention came to New York City in the summer of 2004 and having to get on subways with Military Police and their huge guns and K9 dogs. I remember listening to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s ‘The Rising’ and feeling inspired by the music. I remember the U.S. dropping bombs on Afghanastan and then Iraq, the latter of which was numbing. I remember President Bush bringing us together, and our subsequent divisive politics killing the feelings of unity and community. I’ve gotten used to airports and the security measures. It has not surprised me that other terrorists have tried other methods of taking action from shoe bombs to a bomb that did not go off in Time Square as recently as last year. Things of this nature will continue to happen.
It is difficult to summarize these ten years into a concise statement. We have adapted to our new surroundings and threats and I will continue to do so since the war on terrorism is far from over. I know that something could happen, another attack, and I could be impacted far worse than I was 10 years ago. I don’t think about these things often, but in remembering 9/11, I do. I am going to continue on living though. That’s all we can do.