For all of us old enough to remember, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will forever be etched in our minds and hearts.
We recall where we were and what we were doing when we first heard that a plane collided into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. We may have thought it was an accident until a second plane hit the South Tower less than 20 minutes later. We watched in horror as the towers came down and people were running for their lives. The attack on the Pentagon and the crash of another plane in a rural Pennsylvania field made it clear to all that terrorists had declared war on us.
For days, we didn’t watch anything else on television. There wasn’t anything else to watch.
The 9/11 attacks were a national tragedy for all of us.
But in New York City, the events of that day were much more personal.
I started leading the first of more than 20 annual church mission trips to Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn in 1995 and quickly fell in love with the city and the people in lower Manhattan, the location of our main partner church.
I wasn’t in New York City that fateful morning in 2001, but my friends were. And they still feel the effects of that day.
My mentor and later boss lives about a mile from Ground Zero. One of his sons was a senior in a high school near the towers when the attacks occurred. The father rode a bicycle down to the site that day looking for his son in the aftermath of the collapse of the two towers. He found his son with friends about four hours later. But it was a scary four hours.
A children’s worker told me stories for years of children who were scarred after seeing people jump out of the buildings to their deaths that day. And she still feels physical effects from the damage to her lungs from the air in the days, months and years after 9/11. She moved out of the city years ago, but hasn’t recovered physically.
My first trip to New York after the attacks came the week of Thanksgiving, just a little more than two months later. We went to Ground Zero, and I remember seeing cars in a parking garage that people there told me belonged to victims of the attacks that had not been claimed. Recovery workers brought out a casket draped in a flag while I was there. Everyone stopped in silence as a sign of respect.
I came to the city every year and visited Ground Zero each time, including when the 9/11 Memorial opened in 2011.
In December 2014, I moved to Brooklyn to work with the ministry full time before coming to Gainesville in April. During the more than two years of living every day as a New Yorker, I began to understand how the memory of that day constantly affects people in the “Greatest City in the World.” Here are a few examples:
Any explosion there makes national news. My wife, Michelle, and I were walking to the subway from lunch in lower Manhattan in March 2015 when an apartment building exploded, killing two people. It turned out to be a gas line explosion, but no one knew that at the time. We weren’t the only ones who thought it might be terrorism. When we left the scene, the first thing I did was contact family in the South. An explosion in lower Manhattan was sure to make the national news.
The world knows the city’s mayor. Whether it was the attack in Paris or Brussels when I lived in New York or more recent terrorist acts in London and Barcelona, national news networks almost immediately turned to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his reaction and a report of what the city was doing in response. It was a little unnerving to hear Fox or CNN talking about a major terrorist attack and then mentioning how my mayor was responding to the attacks that were far away. New York is the only city I have ever lived in where I have heard my mayor quoted globally.
SWAT teams are common. The first time I saw a NYPD officer in full SWAT gear was at a subway station in my Brooklyn neighborhood. It caught me by surprise. By the time I left Brooklyn, those sightings were not that alarming. It was more of a comfort. I always felt safe walking to Times Square, or going to events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
Sept. 11, 2001, is remembered as a day of national tragedy and rightly so. We should remember all who sacrificed for us. Consider also taking a moment to think of the people living daily in New York who are reminded often of the effects of that day on their lives and the lives of those important to them.