Every year at this time I wrestle with a very strong mix of emotions. I lived in North Jersey across the Hudson River from New York City from age 18 to age 24; very formative years. Those buildings were such a strong presence in my world, I cannot begin to describe it. I loved them; I was in awe of them. I realize that probably sounds ridiculous, but I have come to understand that I truly felt some sort of real affection for those buildings. I was a young kid from Indiana. We had nothing even remotely like them. I loved that I could see them from really far away. They were comforting–tall, strong, unwavering twins. They gave me a sense of direction in a strange land. They were symbolic. They mattered. Subconsciously I believed them to be eternal.
On July 4, 1986 New York celebrated the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty with a 4 day Liberty Weekend–a 4 day street festival. Millions of people celebrated freedom in the pre 9/11 streets of the city that never sleeps. And I was there. It ended with the greatest fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my life. Grand balls of colorful light in the sky around Lady Liberty, reflected like a mirror off the Hudson River. I remember it so vividly. I watched it from the west concourse of the north tower, standing in the protective shadow of those amazing structures. I remember feeling so safe. I remember deciding that I wanted to work there. I would be one of those women I saw at the train station in Hillsdale, NJ every day, wearing a suit with sneakers and carrying my pumps in a bag, headed for my really great job in those really cool buildings. On September 9, 1991 as I walked into Penn Station with all my worldly possessions packed into duffle bags, the last thing I did was turn and look downtown at the towers and wave good-bye, clueless that this would be the last time I’d ever see them.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It’s not as though I lost friends or family on that day. I am but one of millions who stood frozen in time, watching the unimaginable unfold on television. I have no story to tell. And I feel very fortunate. I think that’s why the strong mix of emotions. So many others lost so much more on that day. When we feel a sense of loss but we see how much more was lost by others, we see our loss as less significant. The reality is that we all lost something really big on that day. Something I’m not sure anyone can describe with words. Even though it may not have been a friend or family member, our sense of loss is very real. And so we take this time once a year to remember, to mourn, to strengthen our resolve as Americans. A renewed strength that propels us forward, still reeling in this new “post 9/11” world that I don’t think any of us truly understands or embraces.