Ten years ago today this country changed. Ten years ago I was driving to the Biltmore Hotel’s executive offices to go in to work for World City Business, a business newspaper and trade publications company, where I was a Research Editor. I had only been working there for a few months so I was still new to the morning traffic and struggling to make it on time. Battling with Miami’s rush-hour morning traffic, I was listening and singing along to the radio, when my song was cut off. I can’t remember now what song it was, but I remember being upset because it was interrupted for breaking news. I heard a plane had hit a building and I remember immediately thinking it was a hoax and changed the dial. Only to hear the same news being played on every single radio station. I realized it wasn’t a hoax and started to listen. At the time, I had no idea what that meant. I listened feeling confused, afraid and helpless. When I got to work and rushed in the door, people were starting to arrive and checking their emails. We were questioning what some of us had heard on the radio and started looking up information on the internet.
We knew by this time that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, we just didn’t yet understand why. I remember all of those who were already at work going to an office across the hall, one of the few offices on our floor that had a TV. People were packed into this little office. Some were standing in the doorway or out in the hall, trying to get a glimpse of this small TV over a filing cabinet, informing us of what was going on in New York. We stood there in awe, some crying.
There was still work to do here in Miami. The city hadn’t come to a complete stop. Some of us would go back and forth from our office to the one with the TV, getting bits of information with each visit. Then we heard screams and cries as we rushed over, only to see the second plane hit. We then knew this wasn’t a rookie pilot mistake. I remember our Editor arriving, and as I greeted him, asking him what he thought of what was going on. He had no idea. He still hadn’t had a chance to turn on a TV or hear the news as he rushed into work that morning. We informed him and he just stood in awe. Then what seemed like moments later, we heard louder shrieks and more cries. When we ran over to the office with the TV, we saw the first tower crumbling and people running. And later more shrieks and sobs as the second tower fell.
I don’t think that at 20-years old I really understood what was going on at the moment. I knew it was something bad, I felt afraid and I knew deep down I was watching history.
The first time I went to New York City it was 2003. I had gone on a four-day trip with my cousin. I had an interview with Maxim magazine for a summer internship and we decided to make it a mini-vacation during that time. When we visited what was now known as Ground Zero, I suddenly felt a sense of sadness. You couldn’t help but feel the solemn in the air. It was eerily quiet. If you heard anything, it was whispers of people looking at Ground Zero and discussing what was going on or what had happened. The clean-up process was still going on, two years later. I remember seeing a cross formed from steel that were once part of the two towers. We cried as we stood for what was probably an hour looking at the war zone right before our eyes. We later met a man who was walking around with pictures of the towers and maps. He was a New Yorker who was now spending his days at Ground Zero educating tourists and passerbys of what had happened there on 9/11. He did this by his own free will, not as a job. He really wanted to keep the memory alive of those he knew who had worked in those towers. People who had now lost their lives. One night during our trip, my cousin’s friend, a NYC Policeman, offered to take us out for the night. After our dinner, we were going out for drinks. As he was driving us on the highway, I remember looking to my right and seeing huge, white tents lined up. Not one tent. But rows and rows of tents. I asked him what was going on in these tents. He just looked back at me from his driver’s seat and sat quietly for a couple of minutes. He said those are the tents the rescue works of Ground Zero send pieces to. I didn’t understand what he meant by pieces. So I naively asked pieces of what, the building? With tears in his eyes he told me it’s where they took pieces of body parts or what they thought could be body parts found in Ground Zero. The parts would be taken to these tents to be then sent to a medical examiner to try to identify people – people who were killed and lost lives on that dreadful day, then two years later.
Again in 2006, I found myself in New York. This time I was there for a Bachelorette celebration. I ended up staying an extra day in the city to meet with my editor at Glamour. I had been working for Glamour now for about a year as a stringer, and was using this opportunity in the city to meet face-to-face for the first time with her. I stayed with a friend that extra day in the city. A friend I had known since I was 10-years old, who was now living in the city. I told him I wanted to go by Ground Zero to see how it was going since my last time there. He asked if I had ever been to St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, the church in front of ground zero. I hadn’t heard of this church, so he told me I had to go check it out but wouldn’t tell me why. I made my way to Ground Zero that morning. It had been five years since the attacks. Ground Zero was a lot more cleaned up, but there was still rubble in the location where the towers once stood and workers still working on the clean-up. I crossed the street and headed over to St. Paul’s. The back part of St. Paul’s is an old cemetery, but when you walk in, along the walls were notes, pictures, artifacts of 9/11 and of people who had been missing or had died in the attacks. The walls of the church were filled with memorabilia of 9/11. During the aftermath of the attacks, firefighters, first responders, policemen and those helping to find any living soul would come to St. Paul’s for a short break, a quick rest and even food. Pews were now closed off. When I read the signs of the closed off pews, it said it’s where firefighters would lay to take a nap. It’s where volunteers would offer the men who were working around the clock a massage to relieve some tension or a little of the pain they were feeling in their agonizingly tired bodies. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe I had missed this little part of the history of 9/11 and I was proud to have had a chance to experience it first hand. I walked through the whole church, I walked through the cemetery. I took it all in trying to imagine what it was like for those who sought comfort there in what have probably been some of the worst days in this church’s history – in our history.
It’s now been 10 years and I still can’t watch a 9/11 tribute, hear a survivor’s story, or read anything in the paper or a magazine about those who lost loved ones without sobbing. Our generation gets it. We understand how we felt that day. We remember coming home and wanting to hug our families and just sit with them. I remember driving around Miami for months later and being proud to see the hundreds of cars that had American Flags flying from their car windows. I remember being so afraid when I got home that day. I remember sitting in my brother’s room, because I didn’t want to be alone, and watching hours and hours and hours of 9/11 coverage for weeks. I remember the sense of unity everyone felt across the country. From Seattle to Miami and New York to Texas, Americans all came together. Though the attack happened in New York, it happened to all of us. Many of us know someone who lost their lives that day. Many of us know someone who helped in the clean up after the attack. Many of us know a Ground Zero volunteer. Many of us know a soldier who went to fight for our country just months after those attacks. Soldiers who spent years away from their family, fighting a battle for the rest of us to be able to feel safe in our homes. Many of us still know soldiers fighting for our safety this very minute.
I pray we never forget those heroes and victims of 9/11. I hope we never forget their families who a decade later are still struggling with that loss. I pray our country remains safe and we never see an attack like what we saw on September 11th ten years ago ever again. I pray for our future generations and that they would one day understand what we all feel when talking about 9/11 and the attacks. I hope the passengers of the planes who fought to stay alive and fought for their own safety, as well as the safety of the Pentagon are always remembered. I pray we never forget.
How did you commemorate 9/11? Where were you 10 years ago on this day? What do you do to honor all those who this country lost in those attacks? Do you feel safe now, a decade later?