A few weeks ago I went with my father to the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the base of the ‘Freedom Tower,’ the nickname given to the new colossal building at 1 World Trade Center.
It was a more bitter than sweet experience, which of course comes with the territory and history of that tragic day. Everyone who was in New York City on September 11, 2001 has a story to tell, whether they had lost a family member or friend or not. Most stories involve unexpected tragedy at a very unfortunate level. Luckily for me and my family, no one was hurt. I will forever be grateful for that. As for my friends at the time, we were mostly 6th graders in the same school, so it goes without saying we were safe. My uncle had a close call, but a personality trait of his ironically turned what could have been the end of his life into just enough time to get outta Dodge. Here are the details:
My uncle was working nearby the Twin Towers in 2001. He was running late for work that day. I wasn’t surprised to hear this considering he runs late to family gatherings and it has become a running joke that he’s never on time. On 9/11 my uncle walked out of the subway and to his surprise there were hundreds of people, everyone from Wall Street suit looking types to delivery boys running full speed uptown. My uncle was born and raised in the South Bronx and told me he knew from his childhood to run with a big crowd and not against it, because it usually means they’re running from a dangerous situation. He took off with the herd of New Yorkers fleeing lower Manhattan before he even saw or knew what had happened to the towers. He ran for dozens of blocks, and turned on the jets when he saw the flaming North and South towers at a distance. His street smarts and tardiness may have made the difference between life and death on Septmeber 11, 2001.
My experience was far less life-threatening than that of my uncle, but of course was not void of shock and awe. Around 9 in the morning my school’s principal announced that there had been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center via hijacked planes being used as missiles to strike the dual skyscrapers. I remember in my 11 short years thus far I had always called those buildings ‘The Twin Towers,’ and didn’t know they were officially referred to as ‘The World Trade Center’ until that moment. The principal ended his emergency address and after 15-20 minutes of teachers going in and out of the hallways to sort out logistics, another announcement came. The principal then announced that one tower had collapsed, and the other was in flames and on the verge of collapsing. He also announced that the entire student body would be sent home shortly.
I could only imagine how many calls the secretary had to make in the main office, but within half an hour most students had been picked up by a parent or guardian. My mother is a teacher and couldn’t pick us up since her school was following the same protocol with their own students, and my father was on his way to Ground Zero, another new term I learned that day, to aid in sorting through the wreckage as an emergency responder with Con Edison. Since they were busy at work my best friend’s mother picked him and I up as well as his older sister who was in the 8th grade, and stopped by my sister’s high school to pick her up as well. From there, we had a chilled out afternoon at my friend David’s house. The boys played football, the girls watched soap operas and eventually all of us, along with the city and the world were glued to their TVs waiting to see what would unfold un the aftermath of this unprecedented event.
Last month the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened up exclusively to first responders. Falling into this category was my dad, who spent weeks as a Con Edison emergency responder at Ground Zero in the Fall of 2001. He invited me to come as his guest.
The mood was very somber within the walls of the new museum. Contained in the sleek walls and shiny new facilities were heavy hearts and teary eyes. One of the things that resonated with me was a pillar with quotations projected onto it that were accompained with voices narrating each one as they were displayed. A barrage of reactions on the day were brought to life, some as simple as “Oh my God!” to news briefs describing the day.
Another interesting piece I saw was a charred and twisted cylinder of metal, about 15 feet long with a 12 foot diameter more or less. I looked at the sign accompanying the display and was taken aback to learn that this hunk of steel was small part of the antaenna from one of the fallen towers.
They had a charred ambulance on display as well as about 3/4 of what was left of a firetruck pulled from the wreckage. I honestly did not meditate too long on these two emergency vehicles, because quite frankly, it was way too heartbreaking.
My 2nd favorite part of the day at museum was a room lined with a smiling portrait of every single victim of the attacks. This was room was more sweet than bitter for me. I’m sure if I had directly known one of the 2,900+ faces smiling at me I would not have been able to look around the room with such a positive attitude, but I felt it was a nice touch to show each and every lost life in their Sunday best, smiling.
So many people die of tragedies on a daily basis around the world. It’s nothing new. I did think to myself though that in recent times of emergency in New York City that I have lived through, be it 9/11, The 2003 Blackout, or Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Yorkers have a talent for coming together in times of need, regardless of any other issue. We have a reputation that precedes us to be fast-talking, tough as nails and often rude city slickers, but when our own streets and neighbors need a hand, New Yorkers are there for each other. With solidarity and reverence in mind it truly warmed my heart to see all the faces of these bright young professionals, building maintenance workers, and especially New York’s Finest and Bravest honored in such a way. I’m not one to usually give compliments to the NYPD, but I will say that every single illuminated face I saw in that room will forever be heroes in my mind.
I thought to myself that of all the tragic events in human history, this one was the most recent one that had affected not so much my life as an individual, but most definitely affected the great megacity where I have always lived and where my heart will always reside. It was nice to see the tradition of New Yorkers coming together and honoring and remembering their fallen sons, daughters, fathers and mothers. I only wish that whatever tragedy may occur anywhere in the future, somewhere there are photos of whoever’s lives were cut short and that they are shown, being happy.
My favorite thing I saw that day was not really a thing, it was a person. My dad, duh! He invited me to the museum with the thought in mind that I would write this article. Although my uncle was the one who had to run for his life, and I am eternally grateful that he came out unscathed, my dad thought of inviting me to the 9/11 Memorial Museum to do what he always has done: to inspire me to write. With this in mind, I only have one picture to display from my trip there. It’s this one:
As my born and bred Bronxite fingers tap the ending remarks of this article, I find myself wiping tears off my cheeks and ultimately, being grateful.
My dad could have gotten really sick like many others in the years following his work at Ground Zero, but’s he’s as healthy as a suave-looking 56 year old man can be.
My uncle put his son, my cousin and basically my twin, Jason through high school and college, the same high school and college that I attended. My cousin and I graduated together in 2008 and 2012, and are now advancing in our respective careers. My uncle also got married since then and now has a 2nd child, a beautiful little girl, my cousin Layla. None of this may have happened if he had been on time to work that day.
All in all, I like the name ‘Freedom Tower’ for different reasons than most. If you take a close look at it, the new building at 1 World Trade Center kind of looks like a phoenix-esque combination of the Twin Towers into a brand new, 21st century reincarnation of it’s fallen predecessors.
The way I see it, whenever I look towards lower Manhattan I don’t just see the tallest building in the United States, nor do I see just another Manhattan skyscraper. I see everyone who I saw smiling in the museum who had passed on in the attacks of September 11, 2001. I see New York City reflected in all its posh splendor, it’s dreamy mystique, it’s gritty, hardworking everyday people and everything in between, from Staten Island to my home borough, The Bronx. I see everyone I have ever known or walked by in my life throughout the streets and avenues who survived and now live to tell about their experience that day. New Yorkers, just like me.
When I see the Freedom Tower, I see my family. I see my uncle, who had the biggest brush with danger, and my dad, who brought back his Con Edison helmet to my mom a few days after 9/11 with Bill Clinton’s autograph, as part of a running joke they had about my mom having a crush on the former president. Most of all when I see the Freedom Tower I think about myself, my own life. I think about all the ups and downs, thicks and thins I have been through and how grateful I am that my family and friends made it safely through the events of September 11, 2001. When I look at the Freedom Tower and think of all this, I feel free. I feel free, to worry about my everyday life, my career in music and writing, my family and friends, and I feel free to not worry about someone I had lost that day anymore than the occasional ‘What if?’ Most of all, I feel free to live. Not many people feel this unique freedom I feel when they look at the same building.
In all its infamously tragic events and all that followed as a result, September 11, 2001 will forever live in my mind as the ultimate day of grattiude for all the things I have in my life. I think of all that I have and how close things had come that day to having many of them taken away. When I’m feeling down, all I have to do is look up; it puts me back in a place where I always love to be: a New York state of mind. – RSM