Defining a Decade

If you click the link above, I suspect you’ll be struck, as I was (and the photographer was) by the seeming disinterest evident in the mother’s face. Neither looking at her child nor the horror before her eyes, she appears distanced from the tragedies of the morning of September 11, 2001.

The NY Times pulled together readers’ photographs of defining moments of the decade that ends tonight. Of course, the decade began in the worst possible way. It was a horrific start to the “Aughts” and an unwanted reality check that has forever altered the landscape of our lives.

On that morning, I was a high school senior in math class. The principal came over the loudspeaker at about 9 to announce there was a fire at the World Trade Center, and that anyone with family there should report to the nearest department office to call them. The next couple of hours were an absolute blur. I remember finding out pieces of the story in some pell-mell order. That the towers were hit by planes, wondering how that could happen, hearing a teacher say it was no accident, and that the Twin Towers – icons of a city’s might and my personal favorite architectural feature of the skyline – were felled. I tried calling my mother at work (even though she was in Brooklyn, didn’t we all feel the need to know our families were okay?), plugging into a pocket junk radio to get updates, and walking through the basement of my school in a daze.

As the editor of the school paper at the time, I felt it was my duty to report this story. I marched into the newsroom and told the faculty advisor I would write it. Knowing of my passion for journalism, and of my pursuit of it as a major, he obliged. I sat down at a computer, pulled up, saw an aerial photo of the buildings ablaze, and let the blubbering tears and sobs spill out of me. That was the unwashable stamp on my brain that told me things would never be the same.

That day, I asked a trusted teacher to drive me home – who knew if the city buses would be the next target? As we drove home, she tried to remain chipper. I thanked her profusely, and frightened, walked from her car to my house. Who knew if there were enemies lurking in my neighborhood? I sat down in front of the tv and saw ambulances blaring through downtown, with dust and debris flying everywhere. I called anyone  I could think of so we could share in the horror and misery. At one point, as I watched the second plane hit the tower on tape, I screamed and cried into the phone “THEY FLEW A PLANE INTO THE BUILDING!”

When my dad came home that day, I fell into his arms. He works downtown, mere blocks from the area, but serendipitously, was in Albany that day. I cried again. And I told him, “This has been the worst day of my life.” There was no time for being ashamed. There was only time for being eternally grateful that my family was safe.

For me, as lifelong New Yorker and lover of the city, 9/11/01 stands as the defining global event in my life. I view so much of this city and world through the prism of “Post 9/11” and will always do so. This whole decade came to be shaped by that terrifying morning. In many ways, so has my life.


2 responses to “Defining a Decade

  1. I think this is like what JFK’s assassination was for my parents. Before 9/11, I couldn’t really fathom what it must feel like to know that every single person in your country (and world even) KNEW where they were and what they were doing at such a moment in history; to share that kind of consciousness with strangers. I can remember waking up to 1010 wins and hearing a woman calling in, describing how she saw a plane going low over head and they said it went into a building. I turned on the TV and realized it was the twin towers. I was still getting ready to go to work, glued now to the TV when I heard a loud boom (I was living near Jay St, Bklyn) and then, seconds later, saw the second plane hit. Papers and dust littered my neighborhood, and they said trains were not running. It was then it started to sink in. Just a year earlier my brother and I were working just blocks from there. I kept saying “all those people” over and over… As they started to talk about terrorists, I immediately started to worry about my Pakistani co-worker. I feared there’d be retribution in the streets. I went to Union Square almost daily after that, and will never forget those days. It definitely changed me forever.

  2. This was a really interesting read – you have a way with words. I enjoyed reading it. I too remember the day but of course not in the same way as a New Yorker so very insightful.

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