Before and After
On this day of remembrance, I am thinking back to a trip I took to New York last fall. I took the pictures you see above on a bright, sunny autumn day not unlike that blue sky day 10 years ago. Through my lens I remembered the vivid scene of the Brooklyn Bridge giving safe passage to thousands of New Yorkers fleeing Lower Manhattan. I recalled the stunning, proud New York skyline, now changed, from my vantage point on top of the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Centre. And I was moved to tears upon finding a Greenwich Village school yard fence swathed in tiny ceramic memorials that have survived from the weeks after 9/11. The messages there, as you see above, were not of hate but of hope and a great deal of love.
This past week I have been reflecting upon the past 10 years and wondering, like many, has our world changed since that terrible day not that long ago? My degree is in International Relations and it is only natural to try to place this event within a context of change over time and impact on the global stage. I have read special anniversary articles from the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Globe and Mail and many others trying to search for some greater meaning to 9/11. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I found a piece that was able to give shape to this post. The ever thoughtful New Yorker published a special eBook this week that shares all of the New Yorker articles written on the topic of 9/11 starting with the first article in the weeks after that tragic day. Celebrated author Jonathan Franzen wrote these words: “Who would have guessed that everything could end so suddenly on a pretty Tuesday morning? In a space of two hours, we left behind a happy era of Game Boy economics and trophy houses and entered a world of fear and vengeance.” (From The Pages of The New Yorker: After 9/11) It is tempting to hope that the world has changed as a result of such an unthinkable, horrific event but the news this morning still shares stories of war, terrorism, and sad examples of man’s inhumanity to man. What has changed? Can this event that has scarred our psyche have meaning?
The best I can do today is think about how my life has changed. On the surface it might seem “not much.” Just as I am typing this a huge army plane, likely from Trenton, just passed low over my apartment and not unlike the days and weeks after 9/11 my heart races and I duck my head. Just briefly. I have shared my 9/11 story before in this blog. I have shared what happened as if it was a story that happened long ago to somone else. A dispassionate re-telling is easy. The week I was stranded in St. John’s Newfoundland was hard. I think about this week in terms of “before and after.”
The “before”, September 10, was an awesome day. I had just landed in St. John’s on a marvelously sunny, warm late summer day – a decidely different experience for me in this friendly city. Before that day I had been storm-stayed in St. John’s several times, as the result of both snow and fog. To arrive and see the stunning horizon and the brightly coloured homes along the harbour cheerfully shine was such an unexpected treat. I got to my hotel, changed into shorts, t-shirt and hiking shoes and decided to hike to the top of Signal Hill, knowing that the next two days I would be cooped up inside a hotel conference room giving a geography in-service to Newfoundland teachers and consultants. I remember reaching the top of Signal Hill and finding a quiet place to sit and look out over the ocean. Such surroundings often force reflection and for me, I saw my life ahead of me reflected in the wide, endless expanse of the Atlantic. Anything seemed possible.
The “after” was much different. It doesn’t take long to recall the emotions of the next day as I’ve recalled the story here before. Curiosity. Why are so many planes landing on the airport tarmac behind our hotel? Horror. Why are people jumping out of the World Trade Centre buildings? Disbelief. How can those steel bastions of strength fall so easily, so quickly? Fear. Firemen yelling to evacuate our hotel. What next? What on earth can happen next? Numbness. Making the mistake of watching the television once safe back in my hotel by the waterfront. More numbness as I aimlessly walk the streets along St. John’s harbour, wondering how long it will be before America decides to strike back. Fear again. What’s going to happen to us? Loneliness. When can I hug my family again? I need them. Badly. I just needed to be held. And later that week, Terror. How can I get on this plane in a week when planes were used as weapons? And finally Anguish. I am home, but everything has changed. Will I ever feel safe again? How can humans behave like this? Why? Why? Why?
Today, on this anniversary, I find that the before and after emotions run through me just as easily as they did back then. The images of that day, that week, are apparently seared into my very being. And I wasn’t even there where it all happened. Yet everyone has a story about that day and I am not alone. And I am not alone in wondering if such a day could have meaning after what we saw and felt.
I am writing today to say that 9/11 certainly does have meaning. In the years that have passed since my prolonged stay in Newfoundland, I have experienced better times, better words to describe this “after” time. Hope. Resilience. Forgiveness. And best of all, Love. My fortunate visit to that chain link fence in Greenwich Village last fall revealed to me like nothing else could, that there is hope in our human race. That we are able to learn from such a sorrowful story. That day I had intended to visit The Tribute WTC Visitor Center at Ground Zero. Based on the embarassing river of tears that flowed from me in The Village looking at those heartfelt ceramic tiles, I didn’t trust myself to go in the visitor center. I wasn’t yet ready to see all of those images and stories. Now I know it would have helped. This past weekend I found and purchased a book just published that shares the many stories of those who have gone within the center, experienced the stories and shared their own. If you find the need for evidence that hope and forgiveness does exist, please pick up 9/11: The World Speaks. I cannot think of a better way to draw this post to a close than to share two quotes that made me weep, and believe in better days ahead:
“The best tribute to the victims of 9/11, to the victims of all types of terrorism, is to keep the testimony of a future without fear, without mistrust in others. This is the legacy we must leave for our children and for future generations. Pain won’t win, ever.”
“The 9/11 tragedy is a story in the lives of all people in our world. This will change our perspective on the importance of life itself. I hope we will be more sensitive, be more loving and responsible people. Life on earth is short. Let’s give importance to it.”
How have I changed? I appreciate life, every day. I hug people (too hard probably…but I’m making up for that week without hugs), and I cherish my family and my dear friends.
Love one another.