Underground, in a tunnel that connects N/R/Q/4/5/6 trains at Union Square in Manhattan, there is a temporary memorial along the tile walls that list every single victim who died in the two towers. It has been there for ten years.
In the West Village, an empty triangular lot with a chained link fence has painted tiles from school children around the country sent in memory of the victims.
Every single firehouse in the New York Area has a plaque in memory of the fallen first responders from their units. In Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, a bench holds a plaque etched with a name of someone who used to sit there who died in the Towers. In Cobble Hill, there is a quiet block where plaques etched with names of the fallen at base of trees.
You should also know how we lived with the after. We still are. An unbelievably long war(s), death of a megalomaniac terrorist, a new tower just emerging after years of intense debates over the design and financing and work stops when more remains of the lost were uncovered.
You should also know that we are all now at the very point of fully processing the magnitude of this horrific event. I’m only beginning to understand the depth of sorrow I felt when I wept nonstop for 10 minutes a week after they fell at memorial sponsored by my job. I didn’t lose anyone in the collapse and the inferno, but I knew I lost something. I wept for the families and victims. I wept for my generation and the ones behind me. There was no denying that the deaths of 3,000 people would multiply. I wept because I couldn’t see an end. I wept because our history was being rewritten and I wasn’t sure what kind of people we were about to become. I wept for whatever innocence meant and my certainty that it was lost. I wept for what inevitably would be war. An endless war. A rumor swept through our offices in those early days of returning to work in Lower Manhattan. There was a survivor. A week after all of that, a survivor. We prayed for impossible things in that moment. We were crushed when learned there was no one.
Our streets were uprooted; Fulton Street was an open crater. You should know that Fulton Street between Broadway and Gold Streets in Lower Manhattan have been in a constant state of construction since. New York, a city not quite finished, is always in a constant state of damage and repair. She is an old city that sprouts new things, even faster than the proverbial and clichéd new york minute. Here, some may argue that equilibrium for New York is change. You should know that we aren’t surprised that the rebuilding of the World Trade Center area has taken nearly ten years to show signs of life that is now. You should know that it’s not cynicism; it’s an understanding of the complexity of how the city works.
You should know that we know the smell of death. You should know that we know the difference in the smell of smoke, of matter consumed in fire. You should know that when the wind shifted ash, hair, dust from lower manhattan covered us on September afternoons in 2001. You should know that kindness in the face of trauma means brushing it off exposed skin of a stranger and friend without acknowledging what it is.
You should know that New York’s relationship to this tragedy of epic proportions differs from the flag waver’s imagination. You should know that we were kind to each other in those early days and weeks. You should know that we were thoughtful. You should know that we loved each other. You should know that we were broken, every bit as broken as any one else. You should know that we loved strangers that week like they were our family. We turned our offices and churches into shelters and relief centers to support the first responders, the workers who furiously sifted through the wreck to find anyone. You should know how generous we were with each other, a city of nearly 8 million people turned into a singular community.
You should know that the narrative of the city includes its architecture, its buildings. That every corner, awning, façade carries a memory like a signature, and like any people of any community, we have our stories, folklore, myth attached to place. That one late summer afternoon the clouds opened and I, without an umbrella, got soaked in the plaza between the towers and danced in the rain around the globe statue, because what else was there to do. That my cousin’s future husband purposed to her at the shores of the Hudson River, the twin towers with its spectacular height, his backdrop.
You should know that one August morning in 1974, a Frenchman tightrope walked between the two towers and those who remember it as a moment of sublime and holy, impossible beauty. You should know that one afternoon in 2000 sipping an apple martini at 110th floor of Windows on The World we saw a rainbow arch its back between window and cloud. That in April of 2001, I told my mom we’ll go up to visit next time she’d come to New York and don’t worry, “they’re not going anywhere.”
You should know that we all know where we were when it happened. As do you. You should know that there isn’t a year where I don’t hear a story from a fellow New Yorker who told me that they were supposed to be at the World Trade Center the morning of the attacks and by chance, they weren’t. You should know we all have our stories, so deeply personal and part of the wide narrative of a single event that shifted our whole engagement with the world for more than a decade.
You should also know the heartbreaking anger we felt when interlopers came to our community on this day to spread their vitriol on the 9th anniversary in response to a modest project for Islamic community center. To say who is American, and define American with such blinding hatred. Anyone who was here when it happened wouldn’t come to Lower Manhattan to do that. Not on that day. Not in our name.
You should know that so many of us who live here avoided Lower Manhattan in the first years of the anniversary. You should know our grief was secondary to the grief of those families, but it was grief we felt nonetheless. You should know that it is ok to acknowledge the kinship of grief. You should know that our humanity allows for that.
We all have our stories on to tell today. Today, we remember them all.