Ten Years Later: 9/11
Looking back, I think 9/11 was the day I became a New Yorker. To this day I am a Californian who happened to move to New York because of a job offer, met a woman, and stayed. But after 9/11, without even thinking about it, I started to call myself a New Yorker.
I remember the day very vividly even 10 years later. But there is a huge difference this year. This is the first year since I heard the planes hit and smelled the ashes of the burning World Trade Center that I can feel some satisfaction. This year, finally, after 10 long years, Osama bin Laden has been hunted down and killed. Along with him, under Obama, more top al-Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured than during the entire Bush administration. For the first time since I heard those planes hit I feel like we are on top of the war against al-Qaeda.
For ten long years I have been furious at Bush for failing to stop the attacks despite ample warning...what part of "Osama bin Laden determined to attack the US" did he not understand? And why didn't he catch bin Laden? Why was he so obsessed with Iraq that he actually didn't care about catching bin Laden, even though bin Laden actually planned an attack on the US and Saddam Hussein did not.
Now, after 10 years, I admit I feel better because FINALLY, thanks to Obama's more intelligent, careful approach, Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda crippled. Finally I feel something has been done after years of nothing going back to Bush and the Republicans ignoring Clinton's warnings that al-Qaeda was a major threat.
Imagine leaving home in the morning, voting in a primary election for mayor, catching the subway to work and starting your day. Imagine hearing strange noises, but thinking nothing of them. Then imagine hearing that the WTC was no more and desperately trying to reunite your family, now scattered across a city in crisis with no subways running. That was ten years ago today.
Ten years ago today, I was sitting in the same place, the NYU medical center (though a different part of the building). It was here in the NYU medical center that I heard the planes hit the WTC and wondered what those sounds were. It sounded exactly like a semi-truck going too fast down the highway and hitting some bumps: BOOM, Boom, Boom...that is what the 9/11 attacks sounded like. I looked up both times I heard that noise, looked out over the FDR highway and East River of NYC, saw nothing but the usual traffic, thought nothing more about it and went back to what I was doing. It was only much later that I realized I had heard each plane hit.
My wife was under the WTC in the subway when the first plane hit. She knows this because the people who got on the very next stop were in shock, in tears...they had just seen it happen. Not on TV, not hearing it second or third hand. They had just seen a jumbo jet slam into the WTC...live. My wife was among the first to know it happened because she heard about it from witnesses who were getting the hell out of there as fast as they could.
Ten years ago today, I was trapped on Manhattan, with no route back to my home in Brooklyn. My daughter was at school back in Brooklyn. My wife and I were stuck in Manhattan all day. The streets of Manhattan pretty much shut down. Wave after wave of emergency vehicles barreled downtown along the FDR highway as I watched...but few other cars were on any of the streets. Wave after wave of tired, shocked people walked doggedly uptown along all the other streets. Each face was grim, tired, determined. No one knew where they were going, they were just getting away from the disaster, moving uptown, wondering where was safe...wondering how to get home. We all needed to get away but didn't know where to go. We had no idea when or where the next attack would come. We were trapped on what was clearly a giant terrorist target. We were trapped on an island with few ways off and with what seemed like threats all around. But we pulled together. It was a right wing nightmare: people of every race, citizen and immigrant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, atheist and etc., all pulling together, helping eachother, supporting eachother. NYC was a true multicultural support group that day.
I remember my co-worker never made it in that day. She had said goodbye to her husband and, uncharacteristically, gone back to sleep. She awoke to images on TV of a plane hitting the exact spot where her husband worked. I called her repeatedly that day.
"Have you heard from him yet?"
"Don't worry. Everyone is getting out. He'll make it."
That was the first call. By the end of the day it was...
"Have you heard from him yet?"
Then lame silence because we both knew that anyone who could get out was out. She had long ago realized that her husband was dead. Though it was a year later that they recovered a piece of him large enough to confirm his death. My god that hit me hard, though nowhere near as hard as it hit her.
Imagine kissing your husband goodbye, falling back to sleep, then waking up to that? Imagine having dinner with someone the night before, then slowly realizing the next day that he worked right where that plane hit.
It was early evening when my wife and I finally made it home. When we started walking from the train station in Brooklyn to pick up our daughter. We were directly under the smoke plume in our neighborhood. Ten years ago today, the ashes of the WTC and of those who died therein, fell on my skin and on my neighborhood. We realized at the time just what was hitting our skin and it was one of the strangest moments in our lives. Touching the ashes of all that...
That was a sensation I will never forget.
Already America was starting to lash out at Muslims. But not in my neighborhood. My family chose that night to eat out at a Muslim owned restaurant in our neighborhood. It was full. Everyone knew the xenophobic paranoia the Republicans were about to unleash and everyone resisted it at least for that one night. My Muslim co-worker, a med-student and EMT at the time, had rushed down to ground zero to help...he was horrified by what had happened and wanted to help.
I am not sure if I was a New Yorker before 9/11. I was afterwards. You can't go through that with a whole city full of people without becoming part of that city.
I write about this every year...and every year the frustration grew. Bush had been warned that it would happen but did nothing. Clinton had told him over and over again to watch out for bin Laden, and Bush did nothing. Why was Bush, the incompetent idiot who ignored direct warnings of the attacks, still in the White House?
Every year the frustration grew. Why was bin Laden still free? Why was al-Qaeda stronger than ever (according to our own government's intelligence reports)? Why was terrorism getting worse worldwide (according to Bush's own State Department)? What are we doing in Iraq? Why are we picking fights with Iran?
Every year the frustration grew. Why are firefighters who fought for America on 9/11 still dying with inadequate healthcare from the government? Why didn't mayor Giuliani, governor Pataki or Bush find some way to give the firefighters the equipment they needed so they could safely serve America? Why didn't Giuliani give the firefighters the proper equipment in the first place? Why have the Republicans cut so much funding to our first responders? Why do Republicans STILL TO THIS DAY cut back on firefighters, nurses and cops, the life blood of our emergency response network in America?
Every year the frustration grew. Why are our troops fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time? Why didn't Bush give our troops the equipment they needed from the start? Why did the Republicans cut benefits to Veterans even as they started their unnecessary war in Iraq? Why do Republicans STILL cut Veterans benefits?
This year, finally the frustration has eased up to a small degree. Obama has made progress where Bush never did. Osama bin Laden is finally dead and al-Qaeda weakened to a degree Bush was never able to accomplish. Republicans are still cutting first responders, still attacking firefighters, cops and nurses, still cutting benefits to Veterans. But at least the first steps have FINALLY, after ten years, been taken. Maybe, just maybe, the tenth year anniversary will be the turning point from frustration to closure. Obama has helped me take that first step.