Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two Very Different 9/11s

Photo by John Buatti

Where were you on the morning of 9/11? The answer to that question comes full circle today, a very different September 11th. Moments of silence and the sounding of church bells rolled across the U.S., inspiring many to recall the moments a decade ago when four planes became terrorist weapons and thousands of civilians became victims. But in two neighborhoods where residents watched the Twin Towers fall and now watch a new World Trade Center rise, locals commemorated the event with the simple act of enjoying the day-to-day lives the attacks were meant to disrupt forever.

Sunrise broke slowly over deserted Chelsea streets. The night before had been marked by Fashion Week revelers and emergency vehicles rushing to their respective destinations. One group streamed into the Meatpacking District, filling the night with laughter and long-limbed beauties. The other fought traffic with sirens and persistence on the way to pre-cautionary positions at Ground Zero.

At 6:30 a.m., in this neighborhood, on this 9/11, only the very determined rose to meet the morning - runners, dog walkers, homeless men stirring in sleeping bags near Chelsea Piers. A man scrubbed a baker's rack clean at Chelsea Market. A lone mounted police officer rode slowly along the Hudson River facing the World Trade Center, his gaze seemingly fixed on sadness and memories much further away.

At 8:46 a.m. the first moment of silence descended over New York City, but not over West 14th Street and 8th Avenue, where two giggling waifs teetered to a waiting cab; a couple sipped coffee while murmuring to each other and a drunken man barked at sheets of newspaper swirling on a corner.

Further south, the Old Guard of the West Village settled into favorite tables at The Bus Stop Cafe. They greeted each other with warmth and by name. They shared pieces of neighborhood news and the Sunday Times, their grey-flecked hair and horn-rimmed glasses framed in windows open to a breeze. The wait staff moved through the room with at-home ease, dispensing the comforts of hot coffee and genuine welcome to men and women who were treated as favored guests rather than regulars. The bustle, gentle and reserved, continued even as a second moment of silence was being observed at Ground Zero only minutes away.

The residents of Chelsea and the West Village can never forget the events of September 11th. They witnessed them, volunteered in recovery efforts for weeks afterward and chose to stay in their communities rather than abandon them to anxiety about future attacks. It’s unimaginable that any one of them might have missed an opportunity to honor the lost victims in some personal way during the past decade. They live with 9/11 seared into a collective memory. What is remarkable, and inspiring of hope, is the way those New Yorkers were able to spend the morning of September 11th, 2011.

On the same streets where thousands once stumbled in a daze, where the horizon once offered the shocking view of lives and buildings imploding, the fact that everyone could enjoy the freedom to go about their morning in what ever manner they pleased - whether in silence or in the steady routines of a New York Sunday - was a powerful commemoration in and of itself. Their ordinary actions on the anniversary of an extraordinary day seemed clear evidence of a simple truth. We are resilient. We survived. We will continue to stay strong. I imagine that the men and women who lost and sacrificed their lives on that day would expect nothing less.

Here's hoping that on the next anniversary of September 11th we will all have two stories to tell - one about where we were on that day in 2001 and one about how we celebrated triumph over terror in 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely observations. I only wish we, as a country, had better capitalized on the energetic goodwill and desire to help & serve that were sparked by 9/11. The past three years on 9/11 I've wandered by the Firefighter's Memorial on 100th & Riverside, and am always moved by both the service & the feeling of unity afterwards. I also love seeing the firefighters pour out into the neighborhood Irish bars!


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