Fifteen years … so much has happened that we couldn’t have foretold, in these fifteen years. But today I am not thinking about all we might wish to have changed, or what we now know about ourselves and the world that we didn’t know that we knew, on that day.
Today I heard from a friend who was working for FEMA that day. And I’m thinking of another who was living in New York.
Susan, then working for FEMA, sends this:
I was supposed to fly to Europe that evening . Instead, FEMA deployed me … I was assigned to Arlington to do what we could for Virginians affected by the attack on the Pentagon. My daily morning task was listening to the general brief families. Day after day we were told about non-viewable remains recovered from the rubble of the Pentagon. I accompanied the families on the last site visit before it was closed. As difficult as being in Washington was, I was grateful not to be called to New York, which held so many more personal connections. I still struggle with retirement and have been going through years of files.
My young friend Emily was living in the Apple, bartending at an East Side sports bar. New York was her dream. She lived on Liberty Street, right under the towers. She called them her mountains – they were central to her love of New York and her life in the city, a landmark that could take her safely home to her little shared apartment in southern Manhattan no matter what the time of day or night.
That morning, she woke to thunder in the sky and an earthquake below. Her building was vibrating. She threw on her new Nikes and ran to the roof. There she saw it all – the flames, the wavering buildings, the people leaping from their windows. She was maybe 22. “We have to run, they’re going to fall,” she told her roommate. They fled their tiny building and ran – ran in their pajamas amid falling debris and burning shreds of paper – across Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge. Across the Brooklyn Bridge to safety at a friend’s apartment.
They all survived that day, those young people, and they are living and working and thriving as I write this. But I know that a part of their core being, in their minds and their hearts, remains forever rooted in that day.
And so it is for those of us who stood farther from the hideous signal of a world we did not completely, perhaps at all, understand. We are still struggling to get to sanity. Let it be.