September 11th: A Reflection

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September 11th, 2001.

It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed in the blink of an eye, although I can imagine for those there that day it passed less fast. I look at my twenty-four year old who at four, I relegated to his room and cartoons so I could watch the aftermath. He was still asleep when the second plane hit the towers, but I witnessed it live on television. It was shocking. I think I tried to call my parents who live on Long Island. I don’t remember if I got through the first time. We had just seen them the day before. September 10th was very much like the 11th – a bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds, sun shining warm on the cool air of the beginnings of fall. I wouldn’t have even been awake the morning of the 11th except we were having landline trouble and the Verizon guy was outside fixing something for us. We lived on the first floor of a former carriage house, and I kept my door open to let any passersby get updates from the news that I had still going on my television. My landlord was there for some reason I can’t remember now. The door was open most of the day.

We sat in front of the television solemnly for days. We cried. We called family and friends daily, just wanting to hear their voices. It took a long time to be able to pass the nearby airport with the planes taking off and landing overhead without cringing or having a minor panic attack.

On the one month anniversary, a plane crashed. We thought it was terrorism again. We were all on edge. It wasn’t. I remember the date because my father was having surgery to remove his second leg due to diabetes complications. And then November 11th was my aunt and uncle’s wedding anniversary.

It seemed that the eleventh would be on our minds for a very, very long time, and here it is twenty years later, and on this day it feels like yesterday.

On the one year anniversary our only child (at the time) had just begun kindergarten. We kept him home from school on that first 9/11 and we took him to the NYS Museum, which was near our home and visited the 9/11 exhibit which included a partially crushed fire truck. It was profoundly moving and emotional. We weren’t the only ones in tears.

Thinking about the interim years of war and increased security, embedded journalists, two more moves, an addition of two more children, buying a house with a large yard, growing as a writer, and the loss of three parents. But there was also the election of the first Black President, a high school/college graduate, a change in religion, a diagnosis of severe depression that is continually being addressed and adjusted to.

As with my parents’ deaths, not a day goes by that I don’t think of September 11th, although it is often remembered with the beauty of September 10th, crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge, the sun reflecting off the water of the East River, viewing the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers in the distance, pointing them out to my son in the expectation of taking him there one day. He visited the memorial and museum a couple of years ago as a firefighter.

Twenty years is a long time, but it is also a heartbeat, a fraction of life. I think I’ll go outside for a bit and just be there.

September 11, 2019

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September 11th is one of those days that will remain with people for as long as they live. To me I imagine this is how witnesses to Pearl Harbor felt in those first few decades. My witnessing was on television, and knowing friends who were there and who survived as well as personally knowing someone who knew someone who didn’t woven with my own history of life in New York and Long Island (who disproportionately lost a significant amount of firefighters) really affected me in ways that I believe the rest of the country can’t even fathom.

On that day, we had just returned home from New York and Long Island. We traveled under a similar clear blue sky and looked from the bridge towards the Twin Towers which could be easily seen. The next morning the television was on, and our door was open to the neighborhood; to anyone walking by who wanted to glance in at our TV and get a quick update. It was surreal.

We spent days, weeks even, glued to the television, at that time thinking that more survivors could be found. We watched and mourned, tears easily coming without warning all throughout that time. I remember that entire first year of suddenly breaking into bouts of crying and flinching every time I drove by the nearby airport when a plane was taking off or landing, fear paralyzing my driving for a split second that the plane was low in the sky.

That first anniversary was my son’s first year of public school: kindergarten. I felt that they schools, especially New York schools, should have taken the first anniversary off. We kept him home that day. The three of us went to the State Museum in the capital of Albany and looked at the exhibit with other likeminded, numb, silent except for some quiet weeping New Yorkers. We stood by the chain-link fence with missing posters signs and ribbons, photos and other memorials. We stood in horror and sorrow at the fire truck crushed under the collapse and debris of the formerly magnificent structures known as the World Trade Center. We moved from one thing to the next until we’d seen all we could.

In subsequent years, we’ve done different things. Our kids continue to go to school, and this is the first year that our children will learn about Nine-Eleven. My daughter who wasn’t born in 2001 is in her last year of middle school. My oldest son who was there with us at five years old is now a volunteer fire fighter.

I did not want the nonsense of this present Administration to have anything to do with yesterday. I stayed off of Twitter, and avoided any political content until the evening and after hearing what happened in North Carolina, I was very glad that I made that choice.

Instead, I began my day with Mass, where our priest was celebrating a couple’s sixtieth anniversary of marriage. They renewed their vows. There was one woman present who lost her son on 9/11. The tollling of the church bells at the moments the planes hit the Towers was profound and solitary and emotional. Fr. J gave me two words to take with me yesterday morning: peace & justice.

I drove from there to the Hudson Crossing Park in Schuylerville, New York to walk and pray the labyrinth there. It was a wonderful experience. As I sat in the middle of the center and prayed, again I knew I had made the right choice. On the way out, I was in time to see the Erie Canal Lock #5 in action as the lock filled with water, raising what appeared to be a small boat but wasn’t. As the couple rose to my eye level, we greeted each other and talked briefly before the gates of the lock opened and they sailed north.

From there, I went to Cracker Barrel for no other reason than it was on the way home, and I enjoyed a quiet lunch by myself and did some writing.

In my small ways, I honored the day, and kept it solemn in a way that worked for me. On my way home, I felt blessed. I hope others did the same and got through the day in ways that felt blessed for themselves.

Hudson Crossing Park Labyrinth at The Play Garden, Schuylerville, NY. (c)2019


Lock 5 at Hudson Crossing Park, Schuylerville, NY. (c)2019


Lunch at Cracker Barrel: Homestyle Chicken Sandwich and Pecan Praline Bread Pudding. (c)2019

September 11th

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Every year I try to reflect and write something meaningful for today. I’m not sure that any of us who were witnesses to the events of 9/11 will be able to just let this day pass unnoticed.

While touring Northern Ireland, I was very much surprised to see a tree and plaque commemorating September 11th. I do understand that many faiths and nations lost people in those attacks. However, I was moved that this wasn’t a remembrance for their own citizens, but in mourning, memorial, and solidarity with us. It is directly across from the Northern Ireland War Memorial, and within the gates of Belfast City Hall.

The text on the plaque reads as follows: This tree was planted by Belfast City Council on 11th September 2002 to commemorate all those who so tragically lost their lives in the horrific events in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania on 11th September 2001 and to mark the special relationship which the City of Belfast enjoys with the United States of America. (c)2017

Fireboat

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This is a photo of the John J. Harvey as its passengers disembark onto the deck of the USS Slater. This photo was taken on August 20th, 2001.

It was a greyish day, a little cooler than we thought it should have been so late in the summer and as my husband and our son, all of four years old and a dedicated junior fireman took a stroll along the Troy riverfront, the John J. Harvey was getting ready to sail down the Hudson to NYC to its new home as a museum and historic landmark.

They had been giving free rides between Troy and Albany. The crew offered them a ride, but the voyage was one way only. Could someone pick them up in Albany?

Mom, of course. Please…

The hoses went to work, drawing water up through the pumps from the river and out again, demonstrating how the fireboat worked before its retirement in 1995. Sprays of water arched against the grey clouds. The passengers got a little damp. I could see a tiny sample from the adjacent highway as I was driving to get to the drop off area before they arrived.

The gangplank was laid between the ships, the Harvey and the Slater. Both crews had done this several times before that summer. As they went from one former working boat turned floating museum/historic landmark to another, they were given a quick tour of the Slater as well.

From crew to passenger, their days were made!

No one knew that day was a mere three weeks from the bright blue September sky that turned black with the rising smoke from four hijacked airplanes.

We know the story of September 11th. We were there or we watched it unfold in real time on our television sets. We frantically called family and friends. We watched in horror as one tower fell and then the second, the incessant sound of beeping of firemen down.

Along the waterfront of Lower Manhattan, however were boats. Big boats, little boats, sailboats, fishing boats, trawlers, ferries, the Coast Guard. If it could get in the water and do runs from Manhattan to Staten Island and Brooklyn or wherever they needed to go, they went, and they continued to go until everyone who wanted to leave had left.

This was the largest water rescue since Dunkirk.

The John J. Harvey came out of retirement and went back into the fire service that day. They ran hoses and they ferried passengers. Other firefighters came out of retirement simply because they knew they were needed. They searched. They rescued. They recovered. They and the John J. Harvey exemplified that day what it meant to be a public servant, a fire fighter; what it meant to be an American.

September 11th isn’t mattress sales and rolled back prices. It’s the day they thought we could be torn apart but instead brought us together.

Read about the heroes of that day.

Read about the John J. Harvey. Visit her at her home at Pier 66.

That four year old of mine is now 19. He is a fireman and an EMT, and he is in his second year of college studying the fire protection service.

Support your local fire departments.

Support the 9/11 First Responders.

Stories of September 11th should be told, and will be told even when the witnesses have gone.