September 11th. 9/11. I debated writing about it this year. Of even posting this after I wrote it. It’s long, you’ve all heard about it before. I’ve talked about this day many times over the past eleven years, the story of where I was when it happened, how I joked about how a plane could possibly miss the towers–believing it was nothing more than a prop plane, and then the running, all the running across Michigan State’s campus after walking into class and watching the first tower collapse. The phone ringing off the hook (I didn’t have a cell phone), my mother on the other end trying to get ahold of me to calm my fears–my father was safe, had seen the 2nd plane hit from his office window and he had made the last train home out of the city. There was the flurry of instant messages between high school friends, talk of missing relatives and friends, close calls–so many of them, and the utter chaos of those first few hours not knowing. Not knowing. The hours of time spent in numb shock in front of the news, watching and re-watching the planes fly into these buildings. The sleepwalking, the need to go home and be close to this community during this time, the nightmares. It’s all intense and I can remember it all in vivid detail. Something like that doesn’t go away, ever. I’m sure everyone can agree that, for those who were old enough, this is a day they will never, ever forget.
It’s been eleven years. Every morning for the past eleven years I put on the news in the morning, listening to the names of the victims being read, never having the chance to hard the one name I knew since it was towards the end of the alphabet. (A guy I grew up across the street with worked on the upper floors of the World Trade Center. I didn’t know him personally, as he was a couple years older, but his brother was my age and my thoughts will always be with their family during this time.) I’d go to work, we would sit around the office talking about it. Reliving the day, talking about our feelings and where we were. But today felt different. It wasn’t my first year away from NYC over the anniversary but this year, in Colorado, no one spoke of what happened. Maybe we’re moving on as a nation, maybe places far enough away from New York were a little more shielded from the effects of that day, maybe people just don’t talk about it anymore the way they used to.
Maybe it’s just that we don’t know what to say anymore.
I remember the first time I flew back into Manhattan, just a couple months after 9/11/01. It was one of those rare moments where your plane gets picked as the luckiest plane in the world and lands parallel to the skyline. Every visitor’s dream, to see the skyline from that distance. It was the first time I had seen those silhouetted buildings with the enormous gap in lower Manhattan for myself and it was surreal. I had been processing what had happened to my city from a thousand miles away and then suddenly BOOM, there it was. Or there it wasn’t.
A month after, I stood out on a wooden platform that jutted out over Ground Zero, overcome…overwhelmed by emotion and by being there. Right there. At the epicenter of what had traumatized me for weeks following. I had been there just three years earlier, standing in between the two buildings, aiming a camera up at the sky getting the edges of the building in it’s viewfinder for a photography project. There is a black and white picture sitting in a box somewhere in my parents’ house of the towers but I haven’t been able to find it.
Ever since, I have avoided Ground Zero. It brought back too much so I didn’t go near it. It wasn’t hard to do, Manhattan is a surprisingly large island and I rarely ever found myself in it’s vicinity, my life revolving around uptown and midtown. Last year I purposefully walked down the Avenue of the Americas until I saw the new tower and I walked around the perimeter of the site. It’s a powerful place, full of emotion, radiating this silence that once a year, on the anniversary, will roll out and swallow Manhattan. Making it a rather peaceful place for a few hours.
I’m not sure how I feel about it becoming a tourist attraction. I struggle with the train of thought that people from all over the world, that future generations, need to learn about what happened here. It’s countered by the distaste in my mouth over people treating this as an attraction. I had to force myself to be friendly to the foreigners who asked me to take a picture of their smiling faces standing at the fence surrounding Ground Zero. Are they going to frame that picture? Put it up on the fridge? This is where people died and we were there to see it! The new family vacation. It just doesn’t sit well with me. It’s something I haven’t talked about with my New York friends so I’m not sure how the rest of the city feels about this new stage Ground Zero is about to enter. I’m curious to know.
I hope they have done a good job with the memorial; when I was in Berlin in 2009 I went to the Holocost Memorial. These giant slabs of stone playing with shadow and light, voids and masses. It was an experience and surprisingly moving. This was my grandfather’s generation and before, far removed from my life now but I still felt the power behind it. I just hope that my grandchildren will go to the September 11th memorial and feel the power behind it, even though they do not have the emotionally heavy memories to back up that power.