What I remember most are the days afterward. I remember the worry and prayers for those who went missing, and the hopes that they would turn up alive instead of found in the rubble.
On September 12, I returned to the city and went to work. The smoke from downtown continued to rise, and as I walked up to 54th from Pennsylvania Station, I noticed the immediate push of tiny American Flags, which were for sale at nearly all the newsstands on the street.
Admitting to my own ignorance and hatred, it was hard for me to accept this. I struggled because the people working behind the newsstands were from different countries. Perhaps they were from countries that were linked to this attack. I struggled because hate is easily blinding, and the need to blame, or punish was thick in my system. However, I refrained from commenting on this because I knew my thoughts were wrong.
As a country, we have never seen battle on our own soil. At least not, like this.
By morning, the conspiracy theories began to bubble, and people were already saying, “It was an inside job.”
My heart was broken and our skyline was forever changed. It was too early in the wreckage to know how many of my friends or acquaintances were lost. But the news was on its way.
I learned about Father Mike on the night of the attack.
Ronnie called me at home to see if I were okay. We were on the phone for only a few minutes when he said, “Benny, I have to tell you something . . . and it’s not an easy thing to say, so I’m just going to say it.”
As he spoke, I turned to face the muted television in my apartment, which continued to show the planes crashing into The Towers.
He said, “They got Father Mike,” and as he explained, the news reported Father Mike’s death.
They showed a picture of firefighters holding his slumped, and lifeless body.
Father Mike was my friend. (Casualty #0001)
There were several messages on my cell phone, “Come on man. Call me back! I need to know you’re all right.”
Although I was physically well, I was far from all right.
I heard from some who wanted revenge. I heard from some who decided to visit alleged homes that reportedly celebrated when The Towers fell.
I was invited to go along—but I knew reports like this are seldom accurate, and if I were to respond to them, then I would be just as guilty as my enemy.
All I thought about were the children of the victims. I thought about the way husbands and wives kiss goodbye in the morning, and how parents tell their children, “I’ll see you later.”
But later never came.
I thought about the families. I thought about the fear and pain of those in The Towers when the buildings fell. I thought about my friend Vito when he described the noise of screaming victims as they leapt from windows and cried out until their deaths.
Vito was never the same after that. The piece of him, which died that day, came to find him several years later. Vito died 12 years after the attack; however, his death was clearly a result of that tragic morning
The human body is an incredible phenomenon. We are more than blood and bone; we are an artistic combination of details, which make us who we are. We are a compilation of thoughts and processes as well as tastes and enjoyments.
We have similarities, but we are all unique.
We are unique down to the tiniest detail of our fingerprints, which are unlike any other in the world. Each and every one of us are stages of time-consuming artwork.
After we are conceived; we begin to grow. We begin our timely process in the womb, and after birth, we continue to evolve. It takes time to stand and walk, same as it takes years to learn how to read and gather information. It takes decades to become an adult, or create a family with children and grandchildren. And each of this is a branch of one phenomenon. It takes a lifetime to perfect who we are.
However, death comes in an instant. And I wonder how many years of artistic creation and detail compile from the thousands we lost on that day. More than the properties that fell; the years and lifetimes it took to create the phenomenon of nearly 3,000 lives were destroyed in a matter of minutes.
This week marked the anniversary of the terror attacks on 9/11. I remember it very well. It was the day I saw my city run in fear. It was the day I watched my skyline burn from the rooftop of a building on 54th Street.
What I recall most is the shock. I recall the stillness of time and fighter jets as they flew circles above Manhattan.
The day after, I stood amongst the aftermath in Pennsylvania Station and waited for my train to be announced. The station was mostly empty. But there was an old woman.
She was round-bodied, with glasses and short white hair. There was a dust mask around her neck, a large denim, buttoned down shirt draped over her shoulders. She wore a white shirt beneath and white pants and white shoes, but the white was contaminated with the debris of downtown’s fallen buildings. She stood with two bags of her belongings at her side, and a little dog.
The dog was frightened, but still eager to smell me.
I reached down and lent my hand, and the dog licked my fingertips. Then I crouched and began to pet the tail-wagging animal.
As I looked up at the older woman, she said, “Thank you.”
“He needs some love right now.”
The corners of her mouth began to curl as she fought the tears, which streamed through the dust that stained her checks. I stood up, and as her shoulders began to buck from crying, I reached out and embraced her in my arms.
I did not know this woman. But then again, I didn’t have to.
Standing beneath the large monitors with track listings at the main waiting area inside Pennsylvania Station, I held a woman I had never met before, and together, we wept over the loss.
I fear we may have lost our way. But I have not forgotten you. I have not forgotten what you mean to me, and I have not forgotten what we lost as a society or the lives that were taken.
As I write to you, I sit in a comfortable home beneath a sturdy roof. Outside, the skies are clear and the winds are pleasant. To my right, is an American Flag, and behind me is the proof of my father’s service to this country, which has been printed on a document, signed by the President of the United States, framed, and hung on my wall.
I understand that none of these things I have were free. But neither were the lives we lost on that day, September 11, 2001.
I do not know if it is possible to define the cost of freedom. I do not know whether I should listen to the right side of our government or the left. All I know is there are enemies threatening our gates. And I could not stand another attack on our soil.
Rest well, father Mike.
“As long as the earth endures seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22