We were living in Brooklyn for the 10 year anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks, and I wrote a blog post that weekend on my experience. I dug it out to share pieces of it with you today.
On the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks, I found myself at a Brooklyn Catholic Mass. As we approached the anniversary, the wounds stung in the hearts of the country. It is felt all over with acute pain, but here in New York they saw the smoke in the sky, they stood in their streets watching it rise. Here in New York they knew the people that worked in those towers and performed the service of going in to search for the living, and the dead.
I was new to writing. I was new to motherhood and adulthood and my neighborhood. I was living in a strange city, one I simultaneously hated and adored, and I was trying to connect.
As I sat on my stoop yesterday, Maria, my landlord’s wife, shared a few memories with me about the event.
She is not one to mince words. She is a matter-of-fact, Italian-Catholic with jet-black hair and eyes almost as dark. She is an immigrant to this country, and she is a Brooklynite to the core. She was pregnant with her son Anthony when the 9/11 attacks occurred. She was the one to tell me she could see the smoke from the impact of the planes. Then, as the dust began to settle, so did the debris. It settled as far as our street.
She watched people flock to the churches, crying for mercy and understanding. She watched anger and resentment wash away — it was replaced by deep and confusing wounds. She hoped people would see why they need a saviour and she told me she secretly knew that most of them would forget.
This is the way I will always remember Maria. Her stern, serious face turned outward, watching her street from the top step of her stoop, hair braided to fight frizz and heat, hands gently clasped in front of her. I knew I was not that kind of woman — she was black and white, I lived often in the murky gray area.
We were different, unique, not better or worse, and I was still learning what that meant.
When the attacks happened, I was sixteen-years-old. I was floundering, lost in my own world. I had never really felt the impact of this global war we are in. 9/11 was the first time I really saw the horror and senselessness bred by ignorance. It was hatred illustrated in a tangible way. It did that for all of us. It opened our eyes to the reality that we are not immune to terror, we are not isolated, and we are not untouchable. In this world we are unsuccessfully trying to share, we can be hit, we can be shocked.
We will never forget 9/11, we can’t, but there is a whole generation of children who did not know the time before, who only know now. They never got to meet someone at the airport arrival gate, they never saw the New York skyline with those towers shining in the sun. We will never forget the moment the towers were hit, but they will never a know a time when they weren’t.
If current events are any indication, they will never know a time without war. They will grow up fast. They will get their news from Twitter because sometimes that is more reliable. They will breathe air that is more polluted, but maybe they will drive cars that are kinder to the environment. They will have less wild land to explore, but more options for affordable housing.
We will watch them grow up while we are still growing up ourselves.
So, today, we went to Mass at our landlord’s church. We went to remember this tragedy and the hope that came out of it, with people who felt it deeply, with people who watched it happen on their stoops and from their balconies.
There were elements of Mass that I will never understand, and don’t need to, but I am not threatened by what I do not understand. I wouldn’t be here, in New York or at Mass, if I were.
On the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy I got a chance to do something the people who took down the towers will never get to do — share in an expression of faith that is different from my own, and see it as no less valid.
I lived two years in New York City, and I discovered the only thing we have the power to change is ourselves. I have watched people I love be unwilling to change, and become lesser for it, while others have overcome impossible hurdles, transforming themselves, changing lives around them. I have changed in ways that are terrifying and breathtaking, that are obvious and personal and none of your business.
It is not enough to Never Forget. It was a national tragedy, but since 9/11 there have been tragedies beyond measure all across the world. There has always been war. There has always been terror. These are not things we can prevent on a grand scale. It begins with you, and me, and here and now.
We are the post-9/11 heroes.