Wednesday, September 11, 2013

That Beautiful Tuesday, A Dozen Years Later

I’ve been introduced twice in the past month as someone who was in New York on 9/11 (of the many things I hate about this, one is having robbed us of the lovely word "September").

This is strange to me for many reasons. First, I worked at my horrible job from 7:45 a.m. to about 9 p.m., my boss said it was "all the way downtown...has nothing to do with us." I was one of the only people in the world who didn't know the World Trade Center was gone. In spite of my boss' words, in the months that followed, September 11th became a marketing tool for the capital campaign.

Friends from New York, California, and even Australia tracked me down. I fielded calls all day from worried spouses, parents, and assistants to the prominent CFOs who had a Finance Committee meeting with my boss that morning, as well as staff from our office and those visiting from other locations.

 Second, I was one of the fortunate few to suffer no loses that day. In fact, one of the most surreal moments for me came the next afternoon at my building about a mile from the WTC. It seemed crazy to me that everything had changed overnight, but the soda dispenser worked. Nothing in my life had changed, exactly. Although I lived in the West Village, around the corner from St. Vincent’s hospital, where many of the wounded were taken, my neighborhood was spared of the debris and dust we saw on the news.

Third, I moved back to New York two months before the attacks, fully expecting something awful to happen. I expected an earthquake. I just preferred to die in NYC than live in the suburbs. However, as someone who had majored in Political Science, a terrorist attack wasn’t a huge surprise. American foreign policy since World War II has fomented hatred of our country on nearly every continent. If anything, it’s amazing that it took so long for something so big to draw our attention to it. Unfortunately, it led us further down the same path.

What I remember is what a beautiful day it was. The sky was a deep, bright blue, full of fluffy, white clouds. Afterward, there was the smoke; the smell of fire, death, and destruction made its way up Manhattan that week; and flyers with photos of the missing everywhere.

A friend took me to New Jersey to see friends and later to Vermont to see his family; everyone took care of us, fed us, loved us. I found tremendous comfort in kids and animals.

Suddenly, street vendors sold photos of the WTC

Autumn in New York is so spectacular, they made a rom-com about it. But it seemed winter came overnight. The Empire State building was lit in red, white, and blue for what seemed like the next  year.

The .org set up an intranet sight for well-wishers. The Beirut office wrote that they knew how it felt and were sorry this had happened to us.

Fall finally arrived in January and we New Yorkers were ready to come out. For weeks, it seemed like everyone was walking through Central Park, still a bit dazed.

Flags were everywhere. As Jen Fu wrote at the time, New Yorkers looked you in the eye; New Yorkers never look you in the eye. Everyone asked how you were, if you lost anyone.

American flag at MTV HQ in Times Square

In the next year, there were anthrax attacks (and, as a secretary to someone high up in an international organization, I was worried), a plane crash in Queens, that earthquake I expected (I’ll never forget how the 12th floor of my Art Deco building swayed), and an explosion half a mile from where I lived. To say we were a little jumpy was an understatement. But, miraculously, by the time of the great Northeastern blackout two years later, I found myself in a better job with better people and a life balance I’ve been struggling to regain ever since.

For Christmas 2001, the international and state flags were replaced not with silver and gold,
but with American flags. The lights on the tree were red, white, and blue.

In the seven years that followed, I fell in love with New York over and over again.