It’s Still Raw. 9/11 20 Years Later
Taking stock of this monumental event two decades later.
I’m reposting something I wrote in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, with some updates. I don’t think the words will ever be any less true. I’ve visited the Flight 93 crash sight in Shanksville, PA and paid my respects several times. All the same feelings there as well.
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Twenty years later, 9-11 is still very, very raw to me.
This morning I went to my town’s 20th anniversary memorial and I sat and cried listening to the mayor, fire chief and deputy police chief speak, to a priest and my rabbi, Allie Klein, pray, and to a bagpiper play the mournful “Amazing Grace,” a song that only ever takes me back to the funerals of 9/11 victims I attended. I can’t revisit 9/11 without sobbing, and without fighting back anger at so many, including our leaders who failed us.
In 2011, on the tenth anniversary, my whole family visited the Statue of Liberty and we went up in the crown. The security was tight. There were helicopters flying overhead. And when we got back on the ferry to leave, I looked back at the Statue of Liberty and felt as patriotic as I ever have and I thought, “She’s still here and you’re not.”
We took a family picture and we smiled because it felt good to be alive and to be together, and to feel like our way of life had not been destroyed. But we smiled with heavy hearts, because, of course, we thought about everyone who wasn’t there, everyone we all should remember on this day every year.
We came back from the Statue and walked through the very beautiful memorial in Jersey City, in Liberty State Park. I walked through it silently, looking at the names etched on the side: husbands, wives, daughters, sons, lovers, friends who never came home. And I wept to myself.
It’s still so real.
Part of me wants 9-11 to be a National holiday but I can’t bear the thought of it becoming like Memorial or Labor Day; another excuse for sales and a cooler full of beer.
I know this was a national tragedy, but I just don’t think people outside of the impacted areas of NYC, DC and PA felt it or understood it in quite the same way as those of us who were engulfed it. We saw the cars sitting unclaimed in the train stations. The missing posters lovingly hand written and pasted all over the city, the candles burning in front of every fire station.
At noon on 9-11, I was at the South Mountain YMCA picking up Jacob, who was 3, and helping the director go through the files looking for kids who had two parents working in Manhattan, flagging two kids whose parents both worked in the Towers. It took hours until everything sorted itself out. One little baby girl lost her mother, Kirsten Christophe. Doug Cherry, a man around the corner with a son Jacob’s age, never came home. I’m thinking of those kids today. The baby was about my Eli’s age, so she’s a young woman of 21. Doug’s son would be 23.
Rebecca was an editor and reporter at the Wall Street Journal, which was located across the street from the towers in the World Financial Center. She normally would have been on a ferry crossing the Hudson river or just walking into work at 8:46 when the first plane hit, or 9:03 when the second plane confirmed to all of us what was going on. But she was home that morning because she was supposed to fly to Michigan to interview Gov. John Engler. We were lost in our crazed early morning rush when her mother called and alerted us what was going on and then we were riveted and horrified. Making it even more surreal, we were glued to the reporting of WNYC, featuring Beth Fertig, our friend from the Michigan Daily. When they lost her feed, I was horrified. When she called back in - from a NYC health dept. phone - a bit later, I was relieved. Beth wrote about her experiences here.
The WSJ had to vacate their offices, of course, and the leadership boarded ferries to Jersey City, from which they made their way to corporate offices and set up an emergency newsroom. Rebecca insisted on driving the 45 minutes there, despite my pleas to stay home to stay together.
She’s a newswoman and she wasn’t going to miss the biggest story of our lives. Ironically, after she got there, I told her about what was happening right here at our own day care center and she returned to report on our town, to go from being a mother to a journalist, a storyteller capturing the story of our little town. It happened in New York, but New Jersey wa profoundly impacted. Our state lost over 700 people, and Rebecca helped tell their story in a remarkable package of preporting that won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News “for its comprehensive and insightful coverage, executed under the most difficult circumstances, of the terrorist attack on New York City, which recounted the day's events and their implications for the future. “ Just getting the paper out was a major achievement. To write brilliantly about events they were all engulfed in was monumental. I’m proud she was involved with this coverage - you can read it all here - and even that I had a little something to do with it.
The next day, 9/12, I went up to the South Mountain Reservation, walked over to the edge of the wall on the bluff overlooking downtown New York and where the towers used to be was a big grey cloud swirling around and filling the air – even here, 25 miles away – with an acrid smell.
I want to make sure my kids understand, really understand, how real this was. How real it still is to me. So I will take them up there in a few minutes to lay some flowers at the memorial. It sprouted immediately, spontaneously, and is now official, honoring our friends and neighbors who got up and went to work and never came home.
“Never forget” means a lot of things to a lot of people. I’m thinking of them.