In honor of the 16th anniversary of September 11th, 2001, I asked my husband to recount some of his memories of the day. He was living in Manhattan at the time, and I thought his perspective might be interesting. The following are his thoughts and memories.
A crisp cloudless blue sky; when I think of September 11, 2001, my memories always start with that perfect sky. I woke up early that day. I was brand new to Manhattan, having moved there only 3 days earlier. I was eager to get out the door and explore my new home and that immaculate sky seemed to confirm my optimism. Because of September 11th, that same sky continues to be a symbol of optimism to me.
Obviously, I remember so much more about that day. Cliché as it may be, every moment of that day is singular in my memory. I was standing in a towel in my living room when the first plane hit. Like most people, I watched the horror of the next several minutes unfold on my television. Unlike most people, shortly after the second plane hit, I walked to the corner of my street, where I could see the smoke from the towers billowing into that perfect sky. Unlike most people, I remember the sound of non-stop sirens bouncing off the cityscape. I remember the smell of dust and smoke that swept uptown through increasingly deserted streets. I remember the ash that carried through the air like snowflakes. And I remember the stunned faces of ash covered men and women streaming up out of the subways.
In sixteen years, my memories of that day haven’t faded even a little bit. Every moment is as vivid as though it had happened yesterday. But, while I could go on and on about my memories of that day, I’d rather write about what I feel is the lasting lesson of September 11th – love, concern, and service to others.
In the days immediately following September 11th, I spent my time volunteering at “ground zero”, where I built and managed a feed and rest center for rescue workers in a repurposed school cafeteria. We fed, comforted, and re-clothed hundreds of rescue workers and rescue dogs, all with donated food and goods. The volunteers, most of which were high-school students, served and comforted cheerfully. They took tremendous pride in their work and they went beyond the simple tasks assigned to them to engage the people they were serving. They spent time with them and connected with them.
In the streets, makeshift memorials were visible all over town. In front of every fires station and police station, perfect strangers gathered around the clock, sharing hugs and encouragement. Larger displays of the same outpouring of support were repeated every night in public parks. New York had become a very small town overnight. People were no longer strangers with differences, but neighbors with common concerns and real love for one another.
I’ve often commented to people that, overnight, New York became the smallest town I’d ever lived in. There simply weren’t “strangers” anywhere. For months, that feeling persisted. People continued to volunteer, donate, and comfort. It was a place and time where people had greater concern for the needs of their neighbors than for their own needs. In that way, it was an amazing place to live.
I feel a deep connection to September 11th. Every year, as I reflect on my experiences, it’s the idea of service to others that sticks out. It is my belief that we are all at our very best when we are serving others. Service frees us from the selfishness that so often leads to hurt feelings and disagreements, and it allows us to connect with those we are serving. It has the power to heal old wounds and create community, and we can do it every day.
A crisp cloudless blue sky; when I think of September 11th, 2001, my memories always start with that perfect sky. It’s a symbol of optimism. It’s our opportunity, every day, to look outside of ourselves, to serve the people around us, and to build the communities we want.