So since everyone is sharing interesting stories about 9/11 I thought that I could share maybe a little bit of my own experience while I was there … post the terrorist strike.
Well to start off my family has always had the travel bug for a very long time. But the summer of 1997 we decided to take a trip across America and one place that we stopped was New York since my Aunt lived close in Connecticut. It was the first time that I’d ever been on a train. The first time into Grand Central Station. The First time seeing the Statue of Liberty. But one thing that I remember was that my Dad had his video camera and spent a lot of it filming different experiences as we went around. In the case of this trip looking back later he had video of the Twin Towers as we took our boat across to Liberty Island which was incredible. I’m only very young in the video but even then I remember looking up and seeing these monolithic structures towering over the city.
Fast forward to when I was a little bit older in 2002. Our family was visiting our Aunt again in Connecticut however, this time it was different. There was still the fun and the joy of going to FAO Schwarz and seeing what as a kid was a heaven of toys, but primarily we went to see a lot of the destruction which that summer was only several months removed from the catastrophe. I’d watched on TV in the Philippines when the entire event unfolded and remember huddling in the evening watching as planes wrought destruction upon New York and Washington. But it was removed, distant as if looking through a straw at some event.
When we got to New York the straw was gone. I still remember that as we walked, as all good New Yorkers do, closer and closer to ground zero the signs of the surrounding buildings and of the density of sheet rock dust covering them continued to increase. Then I saw it, two massive 4-8 story holes in the ground. They’d been excavating for some time so it was mostly clear but I couldn’t help but remember as a kid, “that’s where those two giant buildings were,”. Nearby also covered in sheet rock dust was the first fire fighter response station. Every person in the station had died. There was no sign saying they were dead but just from the number of pictures and wreaths and condolences I knew it was very likely they hadn’t survived. They would have been the first respondents and they would have been the furthest into the building when the floors began to collapse meaning very likely that they all died.
Then we visited a Church that was nearby. The sun was going down and arrayed in a hues of orange and red were hundreds upon hundreds of memorabilia, condolences, pictures and letters just by the thousands. All of it just taped, strung, or attached to the grated fences surrounding the chapel and that’s when it hit me. Those 3,000 people that died that day weren’t just a number, they were people, real people with feelings, emotions, likes, and desires.
They weren’t a statistic, they were John, Mary, David, Caroline, Jesse, Ruth and a myriad of other names that were taken that fateful day. It completely changed how I viewed suffering on grand scales and since then it has helped me to empathize with the plight of people suffering in a greater way. It’s easy to forget suffering when it’s made impersonal and reduced to number and diminished. It’s impossible to look away from suffering when you embody and empathize with the people and the persons on a deeply close emotional level.