The time here in California was 7:15am, and I was asleep when I awoke to the low and familiar ring tone that sounded out from my cellphone. It was my mom, calling from New York to share that she had been thinking about this same day only 6 years ago. The call was quick, but it reminded me of the heart of where I come from, the heart of New York.
An hour and a half later, I was getting ready and I mentioned to my wingmate what today was. Her response: “Oh, my books are due in today.” I know the girl meant nothing by her casual and quite random (to me) remark; however, my heart was sobered as I remembered my mom mentioning how easily it is for us to dismiss what happened and how quickly we forget.
I used to not mind the fact that other states, being so far removed from my home, didn’t respond seriously to this memorial day. I have to say I understand them a little because events like the Oklahoma City Bombing mean little to nothing to me because I was so far removed when it happened.
On the other hand, I look around and can’t believe that no one – or so it seems – cares. I think it’s a matter of ignorance. It’s not that you don’t care. It’s just that you don’t know. Perhaps if you knew, perhaps if you’d had the opportunity to know people there, perhaps if you’d seen the faces and heard the music, perhaps if you had the memories and could remember the laughs – perhaps if you had been there, then you would understand what this day means to me and why my heart is sober and my lips silent.
I smile at the irony of each of my statements, for it is in knowing that I don’t know. It is in my knowledge of New York; my knowledge of the area, the people, the buildings, and the New York attitude; my knowledge of what I have experienced there and the people I met or knew there that I am brought to silence by what I don’t know. My memories remind me of what was, of what I experienced, and of the people there; but my mind wonders and my heart aches at the list of names and faces that rush through my head of those whose bodies were never found; whose families were never able to say goodbye; and whose names, lives, and apparently, deaths have been forgotten.
So many questions surround this day, so many issues remaining unsettled, and yet no one cares, no one mentions it, no one stops in respect for a moment of silence.
Perhaps if you knew….
In August 1997, my family and I went to New York City. It was a family vacation, a trip to visit relatives, and time for my parents to go “home” all rolled into one. My parents laugh when they look back on memories like this because after both of them having grown up in the city, they later returned with their family to see all the tourist sites that are never a big deal to a resident of the metropolis.
Our vacation events included the Statue of Liberty, many rides on the Staten Island ferry, and a trip to the World Trade Center towers.
One of my first memories of the great South tower was standing in the lobby hearing that my dad’s fellow band member Danny Lee did all the carpeting in the towers – the carpet was an office-style, navy blue – and listening to my Proverbs 31 mother haggle with the admissions desk workers, a young guy or perhaps two, about the fact that my family of seven should qualify for a group rate. I have to laugh when I think about the fact that she got them to give us the discount although we were 5 people short of the normal group number. After that, or while all this was happening, my little sister then 8 years old took off running down the halls flipping and jumping as she exhibited her great abilities in gymnastics. I remember people – a lady in a suit coat and short skirt and a guy with a briefcase to name a few – in their cubicles, near the water fountain, and walking down the hallway standing up and applauding and I remember being jealous that I wasn’t a gymnast like her.
We proceeded to a theatre. I don’t know if it was on the first or second floor – one of those – and we “took a helicopter trip” around the island and above and in between the towers. The stage moved, and it felt like we were really flying. I remember Rob, my brother, laughing that those of us in the row in front of him had ducked when the film took a dive in between the towers that gave the illusion that the audience might hit their heads. I remember him showing us what it looked like and all of us laughing.
Next we climbed some stairs and stood in line for the elevator that would take us up 110 flights to the top. We crowded into the glass elevator and proceeded to rise for 20 straight minutes.
I have vivid memories about this trip inside the glass room. I remember a ton of people in an array of colors and being in the center of the room near my family. I remember the elevator guy – a thin black guy in a dark blue polo shirt and beige pants – who picked up a little girl and began the chorus “Lean on Me” as we shot upwards. I’m sure his intentions were two-fold; first, getting the whole elevator to sing helped our ears to pop and helped our bodies adjust to the quick ascent. However, I’m the sure the young man with his strong, clear voice hoped that one day one of his riders would be someone interested in signing him and removing him from his job as an elevator man.
My dad joined the man in singing, and it makes me smile to think of my dad singing along and harmonizing, bringing to the room his own previously-professional musical experience and endearing the memory to my heart even more.
We reached the top, and the view of the city was amazing. I remember high railings around the edges and the extra roof there was beyond that for about 100 feet to prevent anyone from committing suicide by jumping off and to prevent any fluke accidents. I remember looking across to the other side and watching the North Tower sway – or was it us swaying? – and remember that the workers said the towers swayed a total of 20 feet. They were actually built to sway because otherwise they would snap off with the force of the wind.
We took a picture up there, on top of the South tower of the World Trade Centers, a picture I still treasure to this day as one of the greatest memories of my life.
There were other things about this day 6 years ago that come to mind as great things you should know. So many of my family was spared on that day. My dad and brother another father and son were all supposed to be there. It was going to be that one big trip to New York City that they had always wanted to take. The roofing material hadn’t been in yet, so there was time to kill. Praise the Lord the supplies came. My sister was supposed to be there, but the towers fell before she would have been there for her job interview (she watched the second plane run into the tower live from her apartment across the harbor). My two uncles were supposed to be there, but one got the last train out before they shut everything down and the other didn’t go to work that day because he was recovering from hernia surgery (just coincidence?). His wife, my aunt, was also supposed to be there, but she accidentally (by God’s providence, of course) slept in until 7:30, and with city traffic, it was just too late to attempt to get to work on-time. One of my best girlfriend’s father was supposed to be at the Pentagon, but just a month or two he had earlier had turned down the job position there.
I don’t know if any of this matters to you, but it all matters to me. It matters to me that 6 years ago, terrorists slammed commercial planes into buildings that represented to America our economic, commercial, and social status. It matters to me that lives were lost and some people were never found; that men and women jumped from 100 floors up just to escape the heat of the burning buildings; and that hundreds of firemen and police officers risked their lives, some sacrificing their lives, for the possible rescue of others. It matters to me that my family was spared from any personal death-in-the-family, when there were so many opportunities for them to have been right there that day. And, you know what, I realized today that it matters to me that across the United States the day is hardly mentioned and over 1000 people can go on with life with it not mattering to them. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you, but it matters to me.