Social justice. Caring for others. Equality. Inclusion. How does that connect to remembering the terrible events of 9/11? Working that through today, on this the 10th anniversary.
The day was cloudless with an endless blue sky. Everyone talks about that but it’s such a memory of that day, a fall day in NYC. The garden door was open, the oatmeal in process, the big boys downstairs getting dressed. We intended to bike to homeschooling soccer that day -at the fields of Stuyvesant High School, directly in the shadow of the Twin Towers. A large sound shattered the quiet of the morning. I remember looking up and assuming it was a truck backfiring or some big city noise that was most likely innocuous. When the phone rang about 20 minutes later, after a 2nd large boom, I knew better.
One always thinks of the strange lucky things of a day like that. That Ira didn’t go to the South Tower to do work for Aon, a client. He also could have gone to the WTC concourse to do his banking or pick up a morning snack – as he claimed he was planning on doing that day – but he didn’t. Or, the other countless stories I heard – “I was late that day because I voted,” or “I dropped my kids off at school and missed my usual train,” or, “I don’t get to work until 9:30.” That was the mistake of the terrorists. The hedge fund men and women were the early risers, at work by 7:30 like Akiva’s therapist’s husband, Steve or another woman I knew whose husband died that day. The rest of the crowd, like most of NYC? At work after 9:00 or so. Just think of how many more people would have died had Bin Laden and his guys known that.
I remember the family whose kids – they attended a local Jewish day school near our house in Brooklyn – we hosted that day, their parents were unable to get across the East River until the late afternoon when the subways started up again. We ate snacks, watched videos and even threw a softball around with their grateful dad when he arrived to get his kids. My boys were sad for so many reasons but in particular, they remembered that we ourselves had planned a trip to the top of the Towers, an annual not-back-to-school-event for the Thursday of that week. Imagine that.
And then there was the ash, and the smell. The burning, acrid, nasty tires-burning-odor that filled our nostrils for months after 9/11. It was a swirling cloud of grief, of memories, of people’s essences and personalities that peopled that very unhealthy and unnatural smell. Ira’s cough which developed from the gunk in his office and downtown – the WTC cough the doctor called it. Flying bits of papers in the garden; a memorandum, a fragment of a note, some person’s mundane desktop aflight in the days after the towers fell. The odor weighted us all down along with our sadness, our relief and the repeated stories of the day that we told to each other, sharing our grief, sharing our loss, almost wishing for a sadder story or closer experience to the death and mayhem.
I hate looking at images from that day, needing no reminder of the fearful specter of the tallest buildings that I knew falling from their place in the sky, leaving a downtown shrouded in dust and ash. I need no reminder to think of the people who died that day and the terrible photos that lined the city streets for months afterwards, Looking for Him, Looking for Her, each one a testament to a life lived and lost. And they felt so lost – their bodies missing and incomplete, blasted apart in the violence of the days event.
I think of the good. The time spent with my kids in the year following, giving up work to be close to those who mattered the most. I didn’t realize then why I had done it but it was a good decision. I think of NYC banding together, people showing their kindness, their caring and their will to be normal in the face of something truly abnormal.
We were all included that day. Nobody was left out because of race, wealth, cultural ethnicity, religious inclination, and disability.
By Beth Steinberg, Shutaf Co-Founder