Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Urban Politico's Reflections of September 11, 2001: 10-Years Later

As we reflect on the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I think it's important that we find a way to make this day a day where we do something positive to honor the memories of our fallen brothers and sisters and their families. There is a big push to make September 11th a national day of service going forward. This morning, I will be one of many New Yorkers participating in various service events around the city and I invite you to do the same in your local community. If you don't have the opportunity to participate in a service event today, you can still do something in memory of the lives we lost on September 11th at a later time this year.

September 11, 2001 was my second full day of classes at St. John's University here in New York City. It was a Tuesday morning and my first class began at 9:25 am. Of course I overslept that morning and was rushing to get out of the dorm around a little before 9am. I didn't have the television on. My suite-mate ran into my room around this time and said "Oh my God, a plane just hit the World Trade Center." We were both in shock and concerned, her uncle worked in the building. I immediately stopped getting ready for class and we were glued to the television. Then we heard the second plane had struck the second tower, then we panicked. My roommate and two of our other suite-mates ran back to the dorms and alerted us classes were cancelled and that the country was under attack. One of my other suite-mates was extremely shook up and immediately ran out of the dorms, both of her parents worked in the towers. We all immediately went off to check on family members and report that we were all safe in the dorms. Because I was only in school for a few days, I had not setup the phone service in my dorm and I didn't have a cell phone as yet. I went outside to use a pay phone to call home and check on my aunt who worked in midtown Manhattan, at the time. When I got outside of my building, my campus was in mayhem, people crying and running around. Within the hour, my university alerted us that no one could leave the campus, including commuters and the national guard was brought in the guard the campus. The main campus of SJU is located in Queens and we also have another campus located in lower Manhattan, one block from where the World Trade Center stood. My memory is a little foggy about what took place that day after 12pm, but I remember feeling very sad and helpless. At one point that day, my suite-mates and I went up to the 6th floor of our dorm, where we had a clear view of Manhattan and we could see a cloud of black smoke. Late in the afternoon my suite-mate who had both parents working in the towers, confirmed her parent were out of harms way and my other suite-mate confirmed the same for her uncle. Later that evening I went to university-wide mass. This tragedy shut my city down and changed our lives dramatically. Being a New Yorker and being here when everything happened gave me a feeling that is hard to describe.

Today, I work directly across the street from Ground Zero, so everyday, I am reminded of that tragic day and I always think about the lives lost and say a silent pray for them and their families.

Saturday afternoon I took a quick trip to Lower Manhattan, took a moment to reflect on the last 10-years and I took these pictures to give you a closer look at the rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero.

World Trade Center Rebuilding

Reflections on September 11, 2001:

The Janitor
I remember like it was yesterday. I had not yet moved to NYC, and was working on a construction site in my former life as an engineer. Construction work starts early (7am) so we were up before the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46am Eastern Time (7:46 Central where we were). And some time around 8am central time, I'm out on the site going over construction blue prints with an iron worker foreman and one of his iron workers comes up and says that a plane just ran into the World Trade Center in New York.

We were thinking that this was some kind of small passenger prop plane or something, shrugged our shoulders, and kept on working. Then about 15 minutes later I looked up and saw all the construction workers one by one leaving the job site. First a few, then dozens at a time. I was like WTF is this about?

Then I found myself following the crowd doing a small jog as I try to ask the guys next to me why the hell we're all running? One of them replies back to me that it's official that a second plane has hit the other World Trade Tower and that we're under attack. So everybody was running to the nearest TV to see what was going on.

And when I got there they kept showing the replay of the second plane crashing into the South Tower at 9:03 am Eastern. And that's when we knew that America would never be the same.

10 years later, as real as we all know it was that day, it seems like the stuff of legends. We'll all be telling our kids or our grandkids about this story one day and they'll think we're making it up because it just seems so far fetched that anybody could actually do that to America. But we know it happened. America knows it happened. In addition to those 3,000 souls who lost their lives that day, a small part of America died that day also. Since then, we've struggled to come to grips with the proper balance between safety vs. freedom. I think that the lesson that we've (hopefully) learned over the past 10 years is that no matter how tragic 9/11 was, if we give up our freedoms then we've allowed the terrorists to win because they will have achieved what they were after - to have America live in fear. We can't let that happen.

Shady Grady
I was at work when one of my co-workers sent me an IM saying a plane had hit the WTC. At first I thought it was an accident. Then everyone else started getting the same message and the second plane hit so we knew it was no accident. My brother called me. I was happy to hear from him since he works in the financial industry and was in and out of the WTC all the time.

I also heard from relatives closer to home wondering what was going on. Work had pretty much ground to a halt since everyone was going to the web to get updates or just hanging out in each others cubes/offices sharing concern.

Shortly after we heard about the attack on the Pentagon our company sent everyone home as a precaution.

I remember thinking that the people who did it were crazy twisted SOB's and that this was likely some sort of blowback. I was mostly happy that my brother was ok.

The Storyteller
I was 15 years old, sitting in economics class waiting for the bell to ring. The classroom was awash in light chatter but I really wasn't participating in it. I was quiet to myself. The door to the classroom was open. I looked up and the security guard was running down the hallway. She stopped and told our teacher, "A plane was flown into the world trade center." My teacher immediately jumped on the internet to find out what was happening. I remember thinking to myself, "What's the world trade center."

The chatter in the classroom grew louder with the news. The bell rang. My friend and I bounded up the stairs to the next period. The recent news mixed with the sounds of teens living their lives created the ultimate collision course of the mood of the day. In 2nd period our teacher pushed a television to the front of the classroom. I now know we were watching America being attacked but then I didn't quite get it. I wasn't ignorant to the world. But to have lived a life where America was always at war but never in America made what I was watching seem unreal. I just didn't get it. Or rather I didn't want to.

By the time home room came the events of September 11th had already unfolded. Towers felled, the Pentagon on fire, a plane crashed into the ground. This is Chicago. Central time. An hour behind. But panic sweeping my high school of two thousand students. In home room, rumors were flying like crazy that a plane was coming to the Sears Tower. I don't remember being scared. I remembered being caught up in everyone else's emotion. The gravity of that day really didn't have an affect on me until last year.

Working in news you can become disconnected from the emotion and vulnerability of events in the name of producing a good product. My first station September 11th was a Friday. I watched bits and pieces of the MSNBC 9/11 As It Happened Coverage. But not enough to really make a difference to what I had already known, what I had already seen. But last year 9/11 fell on a Saturday. I made it a point to watch MSNBC. I watched for about three hours straight. Watching the second plane crash into the tower shook me to my core. Watching the towers collapse gave me goosebumps. It was with adult eyes I felt what I should have all those years ago. It was with adult eyes I understood why our world has never been the same again.

At 15 I knew the facts as they were given to me. I debated them on my high school debate team. I wrote about how the events affected my collegiate future in scholarship letters. But those were just facts, no emotion. Now I have very real feelings. They let me know, no matter how much I blog about change, write the President about my frustrations in wars that have gone on for too long, that there is a reason we are doing this. There is a reason for life as we know it. And unfortunately we can never go back. I and the world can never be as blissfully ignorant in our stability and security as we were before that day. I'm not 15 anymore and neither is the world.

How will you honor the memory of the lives lost on September 11, 2001?

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