Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11 again

It's 9/11 again.  Once again I'm remembering. I hadn't lived in the City for a long time when the attacks occurred, but I was and still am a New Yorker.  I guess you can take the girl out of the City but you can't take the City out of the girl.  And that day I think all Americans became New Yorkers. I just re-read my post on this blog from last year and decided to repost it.  No apologies.  I'm remembering.

Nine Eleven

The anniversary of the attack.  It is still vivid in my mind: where I was that day, how I heard the news, the student who ran out of class, screaming that her daughter was on a flight out of Boston.   I remember it all, but that's not what I want to write about today, on this anniversary.  I am remembering something else, something that happened a little later.

Two months after the attack on the Trade Towers, I was in Manhattan.  My mother was still alive back then, living in her beloved city but considering moving to assisted living.  Some of the family gathered to see her.  

Of course there was much discussion of the attack.  My mother said, "They tried to kill us all but look, we're still here."  Some of us thought the attack would draw the country together.  Others thought it was divisive, that we would all be suspicious of those who didn't look like us, dress like us.  Eventually, most of us grabbed cabs and went down to Ground Zero.

Ground Zero.  It was still burning.  The smell was incredible; my eyes burned for hours afterwards.  Much of it was fenced off but you could still climb some of the rubble for an overview of ruins and smoke.   I walked away from my family and began to climb.

There was an African-American woman already up there. She leaned over and extended a hand.  I grasped her hand and she pulled me up.  We looked at each other.  We said nothing, just nodded.  A few minutes later, an Asian-looking man started to climb up.  The other woman and I grabbed his hands, hers dark, mine pale, his golden, and pulled him up.  Again, there were no words.  We all looked at one another and then looked out over the pile.  The man wiped away a tear.  Then we heard something behind us.  A brown-skinned man was trying to climb.  We helped him up and we all stood there, shoulder to shoulder.

I said there were no words but that isn't really true.  No words were spoken but there were words.  After helping up the last man, the woman's jacket fell open, revealing her sweatshirt.  There were words on her sweatshirt.  The words were: "United We Stand".


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  2. What a powerful memory, Noel-Anne! Thank you for sharing it.

    I lived in and around NYC from the mid-80's to the mid-90's, including a year in Chelsea. I was a member of the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps (marching band) for many of those years, so I was often in the West Village and lower Manhattan.

    Anyway, I also went down about two months after 9-11 to visit friends in Manhattan and Brooklyn, per the mayor's urging. If you recall, tourists stayed away for months. It was so traffic...sidewalks mostly empty. You were brave going down to ground zero. I didn't.

    I remember my friends being very talkative. Crowding around me and relaying one story after another, like they HAD to tell someone. So many and so tragic, but nearly all of them had an underlying selflessness. Helping strangers without being asked. Putting their lives in danger or perceive danger (no one knew what was going to happen next). Helping without hesitation and without thought, as if to do otherwise was simply incomprehensible. And my friends and other storytellers seemed to not realize this. They were just telling me what happened to them and what they did. I had to point out that they were heroes, even if they didn't feel like it.

    My last stop was at the Greenpoint Tavern, a bar not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. I know the owners. (I dated the owners' son for several years.) They told me of the thousands of people covered in soot, walking like zombies down Bedford Ave for hours. What they didn't mention, bar patrons told me that as soon as lines developed for the payphones and for a drink, the owners opened the bar (free drinks) and put buckets of quarters by the payphones. No hesitation. No expectation of thanks. Maybe a small act, but so many selfless acts that day around NYC. Many heroes live in New York.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Lee. Those were intense days. Yes, there were heroes, and you know some of them. I would like to think and to hope that most people have some of that quality somewhere inside them.