Before and After: Remembering 9/11 as a New Yorker

Published: September 8, 2023
Category: FamilyMental HealthStories

For weeks, we could still smell the smoke—even though my apartment is about 100 blocks north of the World Trade Center. 

It started out as a momentous fall day, until it became an atrocity. It was supposed to be the first day of nursery school for our younger son Joshua. My husband and I were getting ready to walk him to school with Krishna, our beloved babysitter, after returning from the school bus stop where we waved goodbye to our older son who was already in school with his third-grade friends. Suddenly, I got a call from Greta, Soaringwords’ community relations manager. I remember the time exactly. It was 9:03, and told me to turn on the television. Greta was staying at a friend’s house two blocks from the Twin Towers, so she had experienced the blast and resultant calamity. 

We turned on the television like millions of people around the world, transfixed on the screen as the images of the planes crashing into the towers kept replaying. Krishna took  Joshua to his room so he wouldn’t see the footage. Even though we were vigilant to never talk about the disaster in front of our toddler, for weeks and months after September 11, he would construct airplanes out of Legos and crash them into a Lego tower. It was painful to witness. Numb from the attack, we managed to walk the 10 blocks to the nursery school where we found the teachers, parents, and other students milling around because no one wanted to be alone. I remember hugging our older son and being so grateful when he was safely reunited with us. 

The World Trade Center held a special place in our family lore because my husband Jacob was one of the architects who managed the building of Battery Park, a 92-acre project which consisted of four enormous office buildings and a beautiful enclosed mall connected to the World Trade Center. Jacob was in charge of the construction of the two pedestrian bridges that spanned the West Side Highway. During the early days of our marriage—years before we became parents—we often headed downtown with Maxie, our feisty Welsh terrier puppy, in tow and spent a few hours walking through the neighborhood. We enjoyed the view of the Statue of Liberty as navy-blue shimmering lights illuminated the harbor walk and shimmered in the reflection of the Hudson River. The biggest conundrum for Jacob and the architects was the plight of the 16 transported palm trees which were the centerpiece of the Winter Garden. The palms kept dying because they were not able to thrive in a northern climate.  

During the time of the tragedy of 9/11, Soaringwords was partnering with 10 leading New York City hospitals to share interventions for patients, families, and health care professionals. We knew and admired these front-line workers and ran weekly workshops in many of these hospitals. The victims of 9-11 never made it to the hospital to receive care. After the attack, lower Manhattan was transformed into a free-for-all as soot-covered people with debris from the buildings were walking away from the scene in a daze. Greta and her friend started walking the 100 blocks to my apartment and arrived several hours later. We fed them and gave them clean clothing and then they boarded one of the last subways and left Manhattan before it was closed down for a few days. For months afterward, people were searching for lost relatives. Fliers with the names and faces of missing loved ones were posted everywhere. It was a nightmarish time where everyone held their breath. All of America was mourning thousands of innocent lives that were senselessly cut short.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was once the number-one New York City tourist destination. Today, however, it’s the 9/11 Memorial and Museum that holds the distinction. This causes me a deep sense of grief because it’s a delineation that represents life before and after this tragedy and just how deeply it affected so many people. While it is noble and worthy to remember the lives of those who perished and those who came from near and far to be part of the search and rescue mission, I have never gone to the site. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the smoke and remember the horrible feeling of waiting to see how many people we knew and loved had died. May their memories be a blessing and may we all live to see the day when we can experience peace.

I’m sending you strength and love. 

Soaringwords is the power to heal. 

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