The days leading up to the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy have been filled with stories of loss and focused on the negative effects of that day. Granted, the world as a whole changed drastically, and countless individuals’ worlds changed to something beyond their recognition. I woke up this morning, just ahead of the time that the first plane hit the North Tower back in 2001, and I noted that moment. I started my day thinking that I might succeed in avoiding some of the media coverage, but before long, I found myself in front of the television, watching and listening to people read the names of loved ones lost. I made it through about 30 names or so, and then changed the channel. It was too much, and I felt a bit like I was choking.
The History Channel was showing a documentary containing footage from a variety of different sources, and as I watched, I recognized some local news people who were shoving cameras and microphones in people’s faces to get comments as the disaster unfolded. I found myself wondering what these guys must be thinking when they’re in these moments. What drives them to pursue news like this when they’re so close to being in harm’s way?
As the day continued, I knew that I wanted to write something for my blog, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I wanted to say. I’ve told my story about where I was so many times (teaching then working), and that I didn’t live or work (in Brooklyn) close to the Towers (in Manhattan). For a few years after the event, whenever I met someone new outside of New York City, one of the “getting to know me” questions was typically about 9-11. I think the mythology around the disaster grew much faster and quicker outside of New York City. People living in the five boroughs and in the immediate suburbs dealt with the ramifications on a daily basis, whereas people outside of the greater metropolitan area for the most part watched and listened to accounts of what was happening. These people had to fill in blanks for themselves, and I think that might have contributed to a national mythology around the disasters in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And please don’t think that I mean “mythology” in a negative way. I mean it in the way that we create stories to explain events that we don’t entirely understand, in the same way that the Greeks created stories to explain natural events that they couldn’t understand, like the rising and setting of the sun or the changing of the seasons.
My day yielded very little inspiration. I have nothing terribly profound to say about 9-11 itself. I was lucky to be away from the site of the disaster, and I am happy to say that I did not know anyone directly who died in the building collapses. However, today I did begin to feel a sense of gratitude for the experience of living in New York City when this event happened. I realized last week, in a conversation with my boyfriend, that had I not moved here in June 1999 and waited, I might have never made it. I’m not sure that I’d have had the guts to move here after such a horrific event. I barely made it here to begin with, and an attack of this scale and scope would certainly have not made me any more eager to become a New Yorker.
But what I’ve come to recognize today is that the events surrounding 9-11 actually galvanized my will to be a New Yorker, and in many ways taught me what a great city I’d chosen to make my home. There are days when I wonder how many more years I can take the hustle and bustle, and then other days when I’m pretty sure that this will be my home until I don’t need one anymore. And moving through 9-11 as a resident of the city prepared me for my own personal challenges that would follow not so many years later. I somehow absorbed the lessons of survival and perseverance that so many people exhibited during the days and weeks after 9-11, and I’m grateful that I was able to bear witness to all of it.
When my first partner Craig became ill with colon cancer in October 2002, and as I watched him fight that illness for four years, I tried to tell myself that there had to be a lesson embedded in all of it. Somewhere. Lessons presented themselves, even after Craig’s death, and my experiences of his illness and then losing him are tragic ones that I cherish, even though they were some of the most harrowing of my life. I think I looked for the lessons as I moved through those experiences with Craig because 9-11 taught me that there are lessons. It’s just that sometimes the lessons that we need to learn don’t always feel so good as we’re learning them.
Like millions of people around the world, I mourn the loss of life from 9-11, and I also mourn the loss of a world that seemed to be a little less heavy and burdened on September 10, 2001. But at the same time, I find myself thankful for the experiences of 9-11 and beyond, because I know that the adversity of those moments in my life have made me believe in the power of the human spirit and its ability to survive. That’s the silver lining in the tragedy.