9-11 still puts a pit in my stomach. Sixteen years later, and I can still remember the nightmares I had after 9-11, they were so vivid. Being on the top floor of a swaying skyscraper with floor-to-ceiling windows, their panes falling out... knowing that we'd all fall out, too, as the swaying arc increased. That was but one of the dreams I had over and over during the months that followed.
One thing New Yorkers remember about that day is the sky. It was a beautiful, early fall day and the sky over New York City was a deep, rich, cloudless blue - utterly unblemished. And, really, anyone who watched the events unfold on TV probably remembers this. Shame that such beauty is associated with such evil, misguided lunacy. Both towers collapsed before 10:30 a.m. ET and for the rest of the day lower Manhattan's perfect blue sky was hidden by an impenetrable veil of dust and smoke that could be seen from space.
I left D.C. only six months earlier and had friends and co-workers who were deeply affected by the attacks. At least two friends were in airplanes, on tarmacs readying for takeoff when they were sent back to the gate. Even though I was hundreds of miles away from Ground Zero and Washington, D.C., it all felt very, *very* close.
I lived in Washington, D.C. from August 1997 to February 2001 and the entire time, I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. This was a really difficult time in my life, personally, but I didn't realize I was anxious or depressed. That was just my normal and I assumed everyone else felt the same.
My first job after graduate school was with the U.S. Navy (a civilian with NAVAIR, the aviation side) and I had meetings at the Pentagon occasionally. The Metro (D.C.'s train & subway system) has a stop underneath the Pentagon and even then, years before 9-11, I understood the security implications. I left NAVAIR after two years and started working for a "big 5" consulting firm.
Taken from Word Porn's Facebook page
At the consulting firm, one my managers was Brian Sweeney - same name as the poor soul quoted above. He was charismatic, had a great sense of humor. People often misspelled his name Brians Weeney (which he took in stride). He was the first person I knew to get Lasik surgery to correct his vision. He was a lawyer with an engineering degree and I never understood why he was with our consulting practice - we did public sector work with public housing and HUD. It seemed to me that he was meant for more.
When they published the names of the passengers on those airplanes, a former co-worked emailed me to see if this man was "our Brian". "That's not our Brian, is it? I mean, the man was constantly on his cell phone." That's what her message said, actually. And he was - he was always on his cell phone, much to his wife's consternation.
But it wasn't our Brian. There's precious little comfort in that, though, since he was still *someone's* Brian. Unfortunately, a woman I worked with at the consulting firm lost her sister-in-law. Ariann's brother was married a month before 9-11 and his wife worked on one of the upper-most floors at the World Trade Center.
As a consultant, I traveled a lot and developed a healthy, albeit irrational, fear of flying. I started seeing a therapist for my fear of flying in August, 2001. The *one*and*only* thing I was not afraid of was being hijacked. A month later, my therapist called 9-11 "a setback". I swear, it sounded less flippant at the time.
On the day itself, I was working at the Missouri House of Representatives, during a Special Session. In an act of pseudo-patriotism, the legislature decided to remain in session rather than go home - even though that's all anyone wanted to do. We were entirely distracted by the events of the day and all anyone wanted to do was go home, to be with those we loved most, to find comfort in the midst of our fear.
President George W. Bush declared Friday, September, 14 a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance and asked the public to hold memorial services at noon. Missouri's Governor gave a speech on the steps of the "river" side of the Missouri Capitol. Everyone who worked at the Capitol went and my co-workers and I left our desks at the appointed time to attend. It was crowed and I wasn't listening.
I looked up into a cloudless blue sky - the same kind of sky we'd had 3 days prior - and I saw an airplane. No commercial flights had flown in the United States for three days. It was as if it had been cued to fly over just as the Governor was leading us in prayer, like a scene from a movie. It was one of the most hopeful things I've ever seen and I couldn't help but think that the people on board were far braver than me. Remember: I was in the throes of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and in therapy for my fear of flying, naively hoping that 9-11 would spur a return to rail travel [NOTE: it did not].
One week after 9-11, the anthrax attacks began. At the time, a very close friend worked for a US Senator. As a precaution, they were all given the antibiotic Cipro, a sort of antidote in case they'd been exposed. I thought of all my pals in the District, how they had to take the train to work. I wasn't sure I could do that and I was so grateful I didn't have to anymore.
Today, a co-worker told me that this was the first year since 2002 when the news wasn't constantly replaying footage from that day in tribute to the grim anniversary. Sure, it was mentioned, but it wasn't all-consuming and in some places it may not have even been the lead story of the day. He thinks Americans have already forgotten, that we've moved on to new tragedies. In some ways, he's right. I don't think it's forgetting as much as healing, though.
I don't have those nightmares anymore. My friends who I worried about in 2001 are still here. They are married, they have children, and they routinely take the train. No one I love got anthrax; no one I love has ever been in a plane crash. I don't think a commercial airliner will ever be hijacked and flown into another building in the United States, either. It might be driven into the ground like Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA, but I am convinced that passengers in the United States will fight to the death before they allow another plane to be flown into a building. So there's that. And we have the Tribute in Light, perhaps the most elegant public art installation to ever commemorate mass murder.
We are 16 years removed. The terror of that day - and it was truly terrorizing - has perhaps been blunted by time. Just like the attack on Pearl Harbor, days that will live in infamy really only do so for one generation. After that, they become history.
EPILOGUE: Tribute in Light
This is an excellent article on Paul Myoda and Julian LaVerdiere, the artists who, only one day after the attacks, envisioned two exquisite pillars of light rising up from the rubble. This vision became the Tribute in Light. I love that this memorial is made of light, whereas the twin towers were made of concrete and steel. It's a nice juxtaposition - towers made visible again, but ethereal like the souls lost.
I love this quote, in particular:
“I started thinking of the towers as a living body, because there are so many
people in them, the buildings were like a coral,” LaVerdiere says. “They were
as much flesh and soul as they were concrete.”
A coral reef is a great analogy for a skyscraper, vibrant and teeming with life.
And I love this passage:
"Both men were taken aback when the lights came on.
'When the lights appeared for the first time, it was one of the most peaceful
and silent events I had ever witnessed,' Myoda says. 'Until that night, I don’t
recall ever being in New York and hearing so little. When the lights were on,
everything seemed to stop. It was incredibly quiet.'
As one construction worker told the artists, after six months of looking into a
pit, 'people could start looking up again.'"
Art heals, to be sure. This statement is generally met with skepticism (at best) and snorts of derision (at worst). But, just like climate change, it's true. This hypothesis is easily tested. Next time you're in a funk or full of rage, do something creative. Even if you just doodle and color it in, I promise, you'll feel better. #MoneyBackGuarantee
One thing about artists that I love: They tend to stick to the courage of their convictions. The airy blue-white light is understated, elegant, and solemn. Can you imagine how incredibly tacky the Tribute in Light would be had Rudy Guilliani gotten his way, and the lights were red, white and blue? JAYSUS.