It's after 2 a.m. on a school night and I will find it difficult to stay awake at work tomorrow...but I just can't stop watching videos of 9/11. I'm currently moved and rendered riveted by the Smithsonian Channel I just happened upon...I wasn't looking for anything 9/11-related at this hour. But it was there and I am seeing so much. I am seeing what happened even though I was living through it, but I was midtown - too far to actually see. So close and, yet, so far. I was in shock that day, anyway, and robotically walked over the 59th Street Bridge with what seemed like the entire city, staring at a smoky, empty sky.
"You can all go home," my boss announced after the 2nd tower fell and I asked, "Don't you think we'd be safer inside? It's probably mayhem out there." If I was IN one of the towers and heard the announcement to stay at my desk, all is well...I wouldn't be here now. I'm a rule-follower and I fear that one day that may kill me. Those who were compelled to run saved their own lives. Is it lack of smarts on my part? Why was my 'fight or flee' instinct dulled that day? I'd like to think that I would've had a strong survival sense if I was in the heart of it.
When that 2nd tower collapsed, we decided as one to evacuate. I recall bending down to put on my sneakers and there was olive oil in them! Some had spilled out of the container of olives I'd brought in that morning to enjoy with lunch and the oil collected on my plastic orthotics. I took some paper towels (from the restroom or kitchen, I can't recall) and wiped them dry. I put on my sneakers and walked out of the office with my coworkers. Living in Astoria at the time, I was fortunate to be able to get home despite the closures. No one could get into the city but I had legs, so I could get out.
"Is this the end of the world?" my coworker asked me, as we walked East. When she repeated her question, I realized that it wasn't rhetorical. I was annoyed at her childlike questioning and didn't want to answer it because I was probably wondering the same thing and she was forcing me to deal with my own embarrassing thoughts. "No, I don't think this is the end of the world," I replied. "But it sure feels like it."
I didn't dare leave my apartment Wed. and Thurs., thanks to a thoughtful boss who said that I needn't come in. I thought, "He's THERE, at the OFFICE?" I found out that following Monday that lots of people had gone back and had run down 32 flights of stairs several times thanks to bomb scares. I felt like a coward for having stayed put. He gave me an out and I took it gladly.
On Friday, I felt the need to do something - donate food, clothing, volunteer somewhere. I made my way with clothing to the Piers and stayed a very short time, I feel, boxing supplies. When I finished my task, I felt very exposed, vulnerable, timid. I was afraid to ask what else needed to be done - everyone seemed so busy and I had nothing so I said, "I think I'll go now."
"You're leaving, already?"
I paused, my body already at an angle towards the exit, wanting to run away - run and scream and cry at my own fears and feelings of uselessness and maybe some need to run further south and witness for myself the devastation so that I could feel its weight for real - it was still surreal and numbing.
"Yes," I said, meekly, and left, feeling guilty that I had and that I wasn't comfortable there. Two weeks later, I went back to the W. Side Highway to hand out bottles of water to firefighters and rescue workers going to and coming from the remains. My lungs were burning a few hours later. I wasn't even at Ground Zero and I was only out for a few hours and my lungs and throat were affected by what was in the air.
Returning from work one afternoon, perhaps a few months later, a man opened a candy bar and briskly threw the wrapper onto the subway floor. I was appalled at his thoughtlessness. I've always abhorred litterbugs. I finally mustered up the courage to say something about it. I wish I could remember what I said, but he couldn't care less. "Go get a husband," he spat out. I was some naggy bitch, I realized. Well, he just didn't like being caught, I thought...but when he made his way to the subway doors, still admonishing me, I got a better look at him and it suddenly occurred to me that he may have been coming from working all day trying to recover anything from the WTC. I realized then that, in comparison, a wrapper on the floor meant nothing. He saw a lot worse littered at Ground Zero and I was missing the point. I was concerned over the less important. I can't prove that he was one of our heroes, but the thought passed through my mind in that moment and I softened, feeling guilty once more.
Today, my brother is one of NY's heroes - a member of the FDNY. He tried to downplay it when he got in and graduated from the academy. "Everyone wanted to become a firefighter after 9/11." Maybe it had brought lots of folks to the job, but not everyone's brave enough to actually do it. He does it every day, along with his brave brothers and sisters and I am in awe. They put themselves in danger. They save lives. They have weekly stories that are never shared outside of the firehouse walls. We shouldn't stop applauding them when we see them pass in a fire truck just because 10 years have passed. I shouldn't ever forget that another human being wants to be loved and respected since that's what I want. We all want the same things and I shouldn't ever again forget that.
One way to remember how we all need to be unconditionally loved is to participate in my friend, Shawn Shafner's brilliant creation:The Clap: Instant Applause for the Extraordinary New Yorker
Will you join me in applauding someone tomorrow? I'm interested in hearing your stories, as well. Love, Agua
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