New York Never Forgets
While the events of September 11 will fade from the national ethos, it won't in New York
I woke up early on Saturday and made the trek to New York City this weekend to catch a show and remember the Americans who lost their lives that September day 20 years ago.
I was just three years old on September 11, 2001. I do, shockingly, have vague memories from that day, mostly because my mother was panickedly calling my father as she was getting me ready for preschool. He was already at LAX preparing to board a flight that morning. I understood that something bad—no, something wicked—was happening to America, but I was mostly too young and, being from California, too far removed to understand the gravity of what was happening. That was gathered later in life as I learned more about the politically important events of the early aughts, examining their significance in the context of my own childhood and how our nation has arrived at this crucial juncture.
Now, I live in Washington, D.C., far from my hometown in southern California, but just a few hours down the road from the Big Apple. I’ve been to New York a few times prior and visited ground zero on two occasions; but never on 9/11. I felt a kind of obligation to be there for the 20th anniversary, and was more than willing to pay the series of pilgrimage taxes, mostly thanks to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, on my northward journey to better understand those who lived through, and are still living with, the effects of these attacks.
The hotel was less than a block away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown. The cathedral served as a place of refuge and prayer for community members—some of whom were still covered in dust and ash—in the immediate aftermath of the towers collapsing. Twenty years later, family and friends of more than 300 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11 gathered to memorialize their loved ones whose names reverberated off of the city’s concrete from the loudspeakers. A procession of hundreds of New York Fire Department (FDNY) firefighters, each carrying a flag to represent a fallen comrade, marched in their blue uniforms in front of St. Patricks to the solemn sound of bagpipes.
Well into the night, firehouses kept their garage doors open, as families and friends of past and present firefighters greeted each other in tearful embraces, and placed wreaths, bouquets, and candles at the doors. As I peered inside one of these midtown firehouses, which lies at least 60 blocks northeast of where the World Trade Centers once stood, I saw a monolith with the names and faces of at least nine firefighters from that small firehouse who perished on 9/11. That was devastating on its own, but then I thought of the at least twenty other firehouses positioned between that one and ground zero, and extended the damage to those other firehouses, which likely intensified based on proximity. This realization made it feel like someone had reached into my chest and grabbed hold of my heart to stop it from beating.
My generation’s coming of age and the drawdown of the war in Afghanistan will all contribute to the events of September 11 likely fading in the national ethos in the next two decades to a certain degree—an inevitability of history. But, it won’t in New York, where the city’s servants have made a concerted effort to keep the memories and traditions of those who fell before them alive.