NEW YORK – For those of us who were in New York City on September 11, 2001, the day started out like any other Tuesday. Many were getting ready for work or school. There was a primary election that was to be held that day. The sun was shining and the sky was a clear blue almost like you would see in Greece on a late summer morning. In fact, my parents and I had just come back from a summer vacation in Greece, and we had that strange feeling you get when you return home from such a beautiful time with family and friends – you want the vacation to never end but you know you have to return to work and school and the daily routines and plans that give a seemingly fixed shape to our lives.
In an instant, however, those daily routines and plans are gone when you get an early morning call to turn on the TV and see smoke billowing out of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The speculation begins immediately, the reports say a fire, an accident, and then gradually the eyewitness accounts begin to filter in and then, as many of us watched live on the morning news, we saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center’s South Tower. It was no accident. That was clear.
I cannot accurately describe the horror and helplessness that the memory evokes to this day, 20 years later. It is still difficult to think about all those people going about their daily routine, minding their own business, and then so abruptly it ends in this tragic series of moments. From the people on those planes, to the workers at the World Trade Center, to the fire fighters and first responders, and those just passing by in Lower Manhattan, it seemed like everyone in New York knew someone there or of someone there – family members, friends, acquaintances.
The interconnectedness of each one of us became powerfully apparent. The ties that bind us may seem ephemeral, but they are there. No matter how much we try to ignore them, or how much more profitable it is to divide and conquer, to emphasize our differences and create distance between us, we are all one human family. The fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, each one had plans and dreams. Every person has a story.
The tragic events of September 11 then became part of our story whether we wanted them to be or not. Everyone remembers where they were that day, whether it was standing in the street, looking up at the Twin Towers in their last moments, or watching the coverage on TV. The images were indelibly etched into our minds. It seemed obscene for life to just go on after that day, but it did.
Now, 20 years later, we live in a world marked by the events of September 11, 2001, for good or ill. The wars that followed, the steps taken that seemed necessary to “keep us safe” at the time, lingered on to the point where most Americans today probably don’t even know why there are certain security measures at airports, like taking off your shoes. There was even a time when Americans had only heard of Afghanistan because the Soviet Union had fought there for ten years from 1979-89. During the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops, many reports noted that there were men and women serving in Afghanistan who had not been born when 9/11 happened, which was jarring to say the least.
While many attempted to piece together why 9/11 happened, trying to assemble the facts and credible information that might have prevented the attacks, others began the endless cycle of speculation and conspiracy theories that continue to fuel the fires of divisiveness in the United States. We are all in some ways still suffering from the effects of 9/1, whether through health issues and psychological trauma for those who worked at Ground Zero or lived nearby to the foreign policy decisions that have affected the course of history. “Never Forget” is about honoring and remembering the people who lost their lives that fateful day. May their memory be eternal.