“And the price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings”
– “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”
Counting Crows

Tenth grade photography, developing seemingly artistic photographs – when I found out that Kurt Cobain had died. Babysitting one summer afternoon – when Jerry Garcia passed away. Playing Monopoly on the floor of a friend’s room – when TWA Flight 800 crashed.
I remember my 8th grade Social Studies teacher telling us to ask our parents if they remembered where they were when JFK was assassinated.
Until September 11, 2001 – these were the biggest events I remembered.
In just ten days, it will be five years since that day. I was home in New York for a two week vacation, and had plans to meet a former coworker for lunch in the City. It was a stunning Fall day; not a cloud marked the cerulean sky. I read a book last year, written by a firefighter’s widow. She questioned why in times of tragedy, do we always point out how normal the events of the day seemed. Everyone remembers the beautiful weather that day.
I was on the train, headed into the City when my cell phone rang. It was my mother; she had heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (at this time, everyone assumed an accident, maybe a Cessna…news travels slowly) and that I should probably avoid that section of the City. Within minutes, the train became a flurry of cellphones ringing, people gasping, and the eventual pandemonium. We were approaching the East River – where you can see the skyline from Long Island City on the train. People had bits and pieces of information about what was happening – enough to make people panic and feel immediately claustrophobic, but not enough to truly understand what was happening.
We sat in the train, unsure as to whether we would continue into the City, or head back East. The train stood still, as we watched the Tower fall. I remember people shouting, people crying. I remember my father, the conductor on the train, saying over the loudspeaker, “Please stay calm and pray.”
The cell phones stopped working – I couldn’t call my mother to tell her that we were okay. I couldn’t call my brother in Boston to see if he was okay.
“All circuits are busy.”
The one line no one wanted to hear that day.
The silence of the next few days was deadening. Radio stations refused to play music, instead embracing a talk format to assuage people’s grief. No planes flew overhead. I remember the silence in my backyard.
I returned to Charleston about a week later – it seemed as if nothing had happened. New York, which was the portrait of America as one, was covered in flags and unified in support and brotherhood. Charleston seemed too quiet, as if the events that had happened were so far removed from their day to day lives.
At that moment, I was so grateful to have been home for it, as devastating as it was.
Last week, I was waiting to get my hair done and picked up a copy of New York magazine, which focused on September 11th. In one of the articles, they mentioned a book called “Here is New York” – a photo book detailing September 11th and its aftermath through the eyes of New Yorkers. I ordered it from Amazon, curious as to what I would see.
My own memory is spotty at best – I cannot watch the coverage that shows people jumping out of the Towers. My mother remembers the funerals of firemen – it seemed like they lasted an eternity. Each one dredged up a memory of the devastation.
I look back at my journal from that day, and am ashamed of how self-involved I was, at 22.
“They’re calling it the worst terrorist attack in history. A bunch of plans were hijacked – they crashed two into the World Trade Center (it’s completely destroyed), one into the Pentagon, and one crashed in PA. It was so sad – completely surreal that the Twin Towers are gone. I’m bummed about my own life – work stress, etc. – but I know it is selfish to think of my own problems right now when all of this is going on.”
I couldn’t even recognize what that single event would mean the rest of my life.
The book arrived today – it is almost 900 pages of photographs. While they are all undoubtably tragic, there is a beauty in what New York became during that time. Something about looking at these photos reminded me what I felt that day, something that I could not have possibly captured in words.
I often take my surroundings for granted. After September 11th, I tried to shut it out – I didn’t want to see the footage anymore; it hurt too much. Looking back at these photos reminded me that yes, it hurt. It hurt much more than I thought it did then.
While the City was certainly beautiful before, looking back at photos taken on September 10th, with the Twin Towers posed loftily as the centerpiece of the skyline – it became even more magnificent on September 12th.

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