"Never forget." Every 9/11 I hear this over and over again. "Never forget" -- as if I could if I wanted to! This directive continues to baffle me, year after year.
I wish I could forget the morning I heard a loud crash from the other side of my office, just blocks up the street from the World Trade Center. I wish I could forget seeing that second plane smash directly into the second tower, the sinking fear when I realized the first collision wasn't an accident but an attack, then the sight of the first tower collapsing, a sight that literally drew me to my knees with despair. I wish I could forget the confusion, not knowing what would come next and whether it was safe for me to walk home. And the smell. How I long for the smell to fade from my memory.
But there are some things that I want to remember.
It was a heartbreakingly gorgeous, cloudless, sunny morning. I walked home from lower Manhattan, across the Brooklyn Bridge, and finally to my home in Brooklyn, with a colleague. We were all scared. There was smoke and dust everywhere. People in agony. But everywhere there was also a spirit of camaraderie. We would get through this because we're New Yorkers. We're tough.
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Delis gave away free water. Bars and restaurants opened their doors to anyone passing by. Strangers sobbed on each other's shoulders. In the weeks that followed, thousands of people volunteered for the cleanup and for all the other work we needed to recover. I want to remember those we lost -- but I also want to remember those who worked to rebuild our city.
Strangely absent from New York City was anger, talk of retribution.
I'm not sure what saddened me more: The deaths of all the victims, or the seething hatred those deaths seemed to spark elsewhere in America. Or the cynical way the tragedy was twisted to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks. All the lies.
We dishonor the dead of 9/11 with hatred, vengeance, and lies. Never forget? It's impossible to forget the loss and the violence. What I want to remember, always, is the way we stood together in the wake of 9/11, not with an us-vs.-them defensiveness but with compassion. I want to feel gratitude for my life and for the lives sacrificed trying to save others. That is the 9/11 we must never forget: The moments when we saw each other as brothers and sisters, forgot about our differences, and revealed our best selves.
What do you remember from 9/11?
Tribute in Light installation designed by John Bennett, Gustavo Bonevardi, Richard Nash Gould, Julian Laverdiere, and Paul Myoda with lighting consultant Paul Marantz.
Image via Sister72/Flickr