Until last year, September 11th meant only one thing to me--my brother Joshua’s birthday. Manhattan was the city I was born in and the home to my father until May of last year when he lost his battle with cancer.
|-||-||-||August 28th 9:00 PM EST
During our descent into JFK, I gaze out the window, and, as always, the majestic Empire State building lit up the Manhattan skyline. I find myself naively believing that the Twin Towers would appear as they always have, stretched out skyward, towering above the skyline. I felt my father would be waiting to greet us at the terminal, as he had so many times before. I knew this was not to be and that not only were the Twin Towers gone, but my father as well.
August 28th 10:00 PM EST
As our driver whisked us away to the Marriott Hotel, I asked how business was since 9/11. A young and intelligent man who seemed to really enjoy his chosen work, he said most NYC tourists spend their time in Times Square now. “Very few fares take me down to the financial district and even rarer a trip to a hotel at Ground Zero.”
He told us he was born in Pakistan and came to America for a better way of life. This man wanted the freedoms and tolerance that do not exist in his former homeland. He enjoyed all of that here in America--until 9/11.
Now he could overhear the hushed but still audible whispers from strangers who rode in his car say things like, "Do you think our driver is a terrorist?" He said comments like that are frequent and sadden him. He told us he is proud to be in this country, but that some people cannot see beyond the color of his skin with an ignorance that leads to bigotry and hate.
|-||-||-||August 28th 12:30 AM EST
As we reached the hotel, the light rain that had been falling became a much colder and persistent rain. Even though we arrived so late, two gentlemen from the hotel opened our car door and sheltered us with umbrellas as we walked into the hotel. Every moment we were there, we had an unbelievable level of service. It was obvious that everyone at this hotel welcomed the much-needed business and made sure we felt their gratitude.
When we entered our room on the 31st floor, I noticed a bright white light behind the curtains covering the large windows of our room. The bellboy surprised me by quickly offering us another room. "This is one of our Ground Zero rooms and has a terrible view. I am sure you will want me to call downstairs and allow me to get you a room with a river view." I kindly thanked him for the suggestion and explained that this room was just fine.
For a moment after the door closed behind him, I wondered if I was entering a haunted room, a haunted hotel. Curious as to what I was going to see and how I would feel seeing Ground Zero up close, I slid the drapes open to see the bright white lights that illuminated the entire site. A huge gaping concrete hole was all that remained and everything appeared so clean.
I looked out at the remaining buildings and saw many had wooden boards where windows once were. I recalled the first time my father took my two brothers and me to see the Towers in 1973. I remembered stretching and bending my neck in all sorts of positions trying to see the top of the huge structures.
My daughter Katie, 14, rushed over putting her arms around me while she too gazed at the site " Dad I am glad we are here. We both needed to see this."
Seeing the scene live from 31 floors above instead of on TV, I now have an entirely new perspective of what happened. My children were totally engrossed in this scene. This event was now real--not something viewed on television and talked about in class some 2,600 miles west.
|-||-||-||-||-||-||August 29th 11:00 AM EST
This morning Katie asked me to take her shopping in SoHo. As we stepped out the back door of the hotel to catch the subway, we walked by what seemed to be a recently opened police station to handle local Ground Zero tasks. A brand new fire engine cruised by. On the front doors of the vehicle were written the names of eight firemen who died trying rescue people trapped inside the towers on 9/11. The crew on the back of truck looked young and appeared to be new hires. As we made our way down the stairs of the subway station I noticed several recruitment posters offering careers for those who were brave enough to be a fireman.
As we walked in and out of the shops and stores that inhabit New York’s SoHo neighborhood I spoke with many of the shop employees. All had their own 9/11 stories--some similar, some different--but all happy to be alive and all still hurting from the event.
|-||-||-||August 29th 3:00 PM EST
Rock and roll singer Rod Stewart said it best in the song, "Every picture tells a story, don’t it." That came back to me in the afternoon when we stumbled across a very interesting store, Hereisnewyork. If you are in NYC, you must visit the store.
The store has invited anyone, amateur or professional photographer, with images connected to the disaster to make them a part of an on-going exhibition. They want to display the widest possible variety of pictures from a variety of sources. These people believe the disaster and its aftermath has created a new period in our history, one which demands we focus on and think about these images in a new and unconventional way.
The images I saw there are haunting; it is impossible to leave the store without being touched or affected in some way. There were the usual photos we have all seen of the two planes crashing in to the towers and the collapse of the towers. However, there are many photos you haven’t seen. Some are very personal; some are clearly the work of amateurs. None of this matters.
Each photo takes 9/11 from your television and presents a perspective that is raw and uncut. You will walk away from this store with a different view of what happened on 9/11 because these pictures are so personal.
One black and white picture shook me up the most. A businessman, obviously in a state of shock, sits on a bench outside an office building after the collapse of one of the Towers. Every surrounding building, window, blade of grass and the man himself is totally covered in soot and ash. The look in his eyes as he sits there is unforgettable.
As I gaze at the photo, I find myself wondering how this man is today. What will he do on the anniversary of 9/11? I wish I could speak with him and ask him what his experience was like and how it has changed him.
|-||-||-||If you cannot make it to NYC and are interested in seeing many of these photos you can see them online at http://hereisnewyork.org. You can also purchase copies at the site.
August 30th 12:30 AM EST
A few hours earlier we celebrated my brother Jonathan’s forty-second birthday. Now I am in a taxicab speeding down FDR Drive on the way back to my hotel. The cabbie and I start to talk. We start with the weather but then the cabbie shares his 9/11 stories with me. He and his best friend, also a cab driver, came to New York City from Jamaica seeking a better life.
His friend was killed along with the passengers in his cab when one of the Towers collapsed on the vehicle. The pain is still there one year later.
September 2nd 7:30 AM EST
On our last morning in the city, I chat with a fireman at a local pizza shop while we both wait for our morning slices of cheese pizza to come out of the oven. He explains that the hardest part of coping right now is the guilt he has for surviving this tragic day. He cannot understand why his life was spared when so many of his "brothers" are no longer with us.
September 2nd 5:00 PM EST
We are sitting at our gate waiting for our flight back home when shouting ensues at the gate next to ours. Two American Airline employees remain remarkably calm as a man and his wife scream at the top of their lungs about being racially profiled. They were rushing to catch a flight from JFK to LAX that was just about to leave when they were asked to step aside for a search. Security personnel arrived quickly and order was restored, but the man and his wife continued to yell as they boarded the plane.
September 11, 2002
Anyone whose been flying regularly since 9/11 probably has experienced the new tension. Flying used to be a fairly enjoyable experience for me, but not anymore. Beyond the hassles of flying, the mood of the country as a whole isn’t a happy one. In spite of the year that has passed and the talk that people have moved on since 9/11, I find many people actually seem angrier. The brief period that existed after 9/11 when people felt together, more compassionate and caring for each other seems to have passed.
As for me, my visit to Ground Zero changed me forever. I realize that I took for granted the role that our policemen, firemen and military personnel play in our society. They protect and defend our great nation, cities, and towns from the dangers inside and outside our country. They have agreed to sacrifice their lives to protect you and me. Yet we rarely thank them or tell them how much they are appreciated.
Every day, not just on 9/11, I will think about the people who lost their lives whether they were in New York, Washington. D.C or Pennsylvania. I will also remember the people who have unselfishly given their lives to defend this nation, as well as the people who put their lives on the line each day to guarantee the freedom and protection we so often take for granted.
While it might be difficult to stop anyone with enough hatred and determination to blow apart a building and kill innocent people, you can NEVER destroy the will of the American people.