Sunday, September 11, 2011


I think all of us in NY remember 9/11 in different ways. For some of us, it's an anniversary that gets marked once a year by a moment of silence before life carries on. For others, it's a day that colors every breath, a scar that can still hurt. If you get a group of strangers together in New York, the question almost always comes up: Where were you when the Towers fell? It's become an ice breaker of sorts, a communal experience that links people together. If you didn't lose someone, you know someone who did.

My father works in the City, but he was up in midtown and he was able to get home to my mother & brother that night. His company had worked with Cantor Fitzgerald in the past. Cantor Fitzgerald lost over 600 of their 900-odd employees. After 9/11, they moved their offices temporarily into my dad's building.

Mom was working for an animation studio in 2001. Her co-worker was Liz Gardner, wife of Thomas Gardner, a firefighter in HazMat 001. I probably said hello to Liz once or twice when I came by to see my mom, but I never met her husband, a man who lost his life when the South Tower fell. To paraphrase what many have said, when people were running out, the firefighters were running in.

I met my best friend in 2002. On 9/11/01, she'd been living in New York for less than two months, having moved here after marrying a FDNY firefighter. She would tell me later, how she felt that day, the terror and anxiety of not knowing where her new husband was. His house was based in Brooklyn. He was far enough away that he didn't get to what's now Ground Zero until after the Towers fell. He worked the Pile, though, and when he came home, his gear would be caked with dust. If she dropped him off, they'd hose her car off before she drove away. The thick gray sediment got everywhere.

It's been a year of change for me, every month bringing something new, some new crisis or surprise to be handled or dealt with. It's been pretty evenly divided between good and bad, and so this year I decided to do something I hadn't done since 9/11/01. I watched television coverage of the event.  In 2001 and 2002, I collected books on 9/11. They're currently tucked away in a plastic bin underneath my bed. I don't read them because it's enough to know I have them. I also have a DVD of CNN coverage that I've never watched. I still remember, I don't need to be reminded.

Yet, today, spur of the moment, I decided I wanted to watch, I wanted to see it again. I watched the Smithsonian documentary, "9/11: Day that Changed the World," and it was interesting re-evaluating things from a more adult perspective. I was 19 when the Towers fell and, while I vehemently disliked Bush, I remember watching his address that night and giving him props. Watching the documentary, I gained just a little more respect for him and I could see how this was a situation he was handed, one that caught everyone in the government by surprise. I still think he was a gawdawful president, but I finally saw the man who cared about his country above all else.

The other documentary I watched was From the Ground Up, which focused on five firefighter widows and the good they've tried to bring from their husbands' senseless deaths. This was a documentary about hope and about rebuilding. There is a moment from the film that is still resounding in my head. One of the widows, Kate Richardson, is filmed while giving a tour at Ground Zero. She lost her husband Bob McPadden of Engine 23.  Framed in a window, in a room overlooking the footprints where the Towers stood, she says she had felt like her life was over, that her husband had been her future. Her grandmother shared with Kate a story about a family relative who'd written letters to the wife he'd left behind during World War II. If I die, he wrote, don't let this war ruin two lives. Kate jabbed her finger at the window and said, in essence, "They took 2977 lives that day, but I didn't let them take mine."

It is a concept that seems so simple and yet so daunting at the same time. You remember those lost by living, by making your life the very best one you can. You honor their sacrifice by being worthy of it. 

The terrorists, the rapists, the murderers, the abusers, all the horrible people and traumatic events that have occurred, they have taken so much from the world. Don't let them take you too. 

Always remember, never forget, but live beyond it all.

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