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Category Archives: September 11

fifteen

Lunch break in the financial district, New York, NY 2 May 2013

Lunch break in the financial district, New York, NY 2 May 2013

 

I bought my first digital camera in October of 2001. And the photographs I have of New York before then are pretty scarce–film cost money, after all. So most of the day-to-day life that I remember of the city live only in my memory. With every trip back, I keep trying to find remnants of that past and photograph them, in perhaps an act of preservation, or even resurrection.

All I usually end up with, however, is evidence of how much the city has changed, and while this evidence of the ever-changing urban landscape would otherwise mean that I could never want for things to photograph, I leave the city feeling even more distant from the New York I remember.

The essence of life in the city has not changed, however, and even though the backdrop may change, with the landmarks I remember long disappeared and new exteriors in their place, I think I’ve managed to find examples of it and capture it.

I used to work summers in the financial district. A few of my classmates did, too, and every so often we’d get together during lunch breaks and find somewhere outside to sit, eat, and chat. We were surrounded by the thousands of other workers doing the same thing. Any place that can be sat on, will be sat on, turned into an ad hoc meal table. It’s something I think is quintessentially New York, made unique by the sheer density of humanity that’s found on a summer day anywhere in Manhattan. Sometimes, we sat in the plaza of the World Trade Center for our lunches. A perfectly common activity, unworthy of saving it on film.

It’s okay that I don’t have photographs specifically of those moments. The memories, the feelings they evoke, are the key. But I’ll continue trying to save proxies for those memories, for their potential to trigger those memories. I guess you could say that’s just my motivation in general, why I photograph what I do.

Fifteen years ago, I was studying in New York to be an engineer. Were I any other place, were the Towers not to come down, maybe today I’d be doing just that. But because I was so close to tragedy and could do nothing to help, could not help with communications despite having become a licensed amateur radio operator for just that reason, last night, on my last night float shift for the month, I was directing resuscitation for a young patient in shock and close to dying.

I do miss engineering. But this… this is a privilege. The sum total of my four years in New York helped steer me here, shaped who I am, and for that I don’t need a photograph to remind me.

the unwritten personal statement

It was nearing the end of our shift in the mobile medical van. “It’s doubtful anyone will show up towards nine,” Geoffrey said, “but you never know what’ll happen.”

On a sunny Tuesday morning in September, I sat in my studio apartment in Queens and, on a thirteen-inch television screen, watched the two tallest buildings in New York fall, while friends only a few miles away watched in real life. Definitely didn’t know that would happen.

I nodded. “Gotta be prepared.”

I became a licensed amateur radio operator when I was younger to be able to help with communications in emergencies. There was a call for hams to help with the rescue effort at Ground Zero. Only my radio was at home in Chicago. Not ready to help at all.

The bridges and tunnels were shut down. I went to a blood center on Long Island and found a line many blocks long. A man asked to borrow my cell phone so he could call his family. At least I could do that.

Sadly, it turns out, even those in a position to assist were powerless. Doctors, nurses, everyone at area hospitals readied themselves for the worst, waiting for victims that were already beyond saving.

But looking at what they could have done, if they had the chance–I want to be there, too.

ten

Some things you don’t forget.

“Did you have classes on September 11?”

“Yup.”

“When were you supposed to be in at school?”

“I wanted to be there at 12:00.”

“What day was September 11?”

“Tuesday.”

“Did they cancel classes?”

“Eventually.”

 

Some things you can’t remember.

I can’t remember if I tried to call any of my friends to see if they were okay.

I can’t remember if I tried to call anyone, for that matter.

I can’t remember who called me or tried to call me.

I can’t remember whether anyone who tried to call would have been able to reach me, anyway.

I can’t remember when I finally turned off the TV.

I can’t remember when they let us back below 14th Street.

I can’t remember when I finally let myself go below Houston Street.

 

Some things you wish were not even a dream.

nine

Dammit, don’t wonder why we called.

We love, and then we were afraid we lost.

Scott Swanson, 11 September 2002.

(Continued)

One post for 9/11.

Flipping through the TV programming guide tonight, I saw the familiar 9/11 documentaries and movies popping up in the listings, reminding me that, on Thursday, it will have been seven years since that day. I have little in the way of comment except to say that, as always, remember to treasure your loved ones every day.

I located an email I sent to friends and family the day after, having been reminded of its existence because of the proximity of September 11, and also from having had the chance this weekend to see an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in nearly four years. Its text follows below.

(Continued)

5-5-5-5

It’s been three years. I still think about it from time to time. But I didn’t even realize it was coming up until maybe a day or two ago.

Don’t forget, but don’t forget the future, either. Give your loved ones an extra-special hug today.

(“You really can see them from up here.”)

weakness

I broke my stated promise to engage in a media blackout today.

I turned on the TV this morning to make sure there was no HFS redux.

This evening, I watched NBC at 8pm, which featured Tom Brokaw interviewing a group of air traffic controllers that watched the four flights to their fateful end, helpless, unable to do anything about those flights. But they did manage to keep the planes in the air safe, and bring them down when the entirety of US airspace was ordered cleared. Kudos.

Bush’s address at 9pm from Ellis Island was appropriate, respectful and inspiring.

CBS aired a documentary produced by two French filmmakers, brothers who were originally doing a film on a rookie in the FDNY and his initiation into the fold. By pure happenstance, they had their cameras rolling throughout the madness that morning. One was present in the lobby of Tower One, filming the rescue effort and later escape from the remaining tower, surely doomed; the other circled helplessly between the firehouse and the Trade Center, filming the masses transfixed by the burning towers, then the panicked flight north as 2 WTC went down, and finally his own experience, trapped too close to the site as 1 WTC fell.

The shock and denial from that day came flooding back. The guilt, for not being able to help even in miniscule amounts. I, a radio amateur with a commitment to help in emergencies, was improperly equipped.

So why did I turn on the television?

I’ll let you figure that out, because I don’t know the answer.

Notes

In the end, there is nothing to say. Take a cue from Rudy and Mike. No speeches and no grandstanding. I thought maybe I would have something of substance. In the end, there is nothing to say.

One year later, we have seen things that, in the end, I think only serve to give us false senses of security against a bodiless threat. Where once we stood united, in the end we are divided. Recompense for families affected has been wraught with obstacles and controversy. Consensus on a fitting memorial is proving difficult to reach.

There are questions that are logical to ask, one year later.

For ourselves: Are we doing what we can to better ourselves? Each one of us has a take-home lesson from that day. Have we taken it to heart?

As Americans: Is our country being prudent in its actions? What can we do to be a part of the decisionmaking process?

As for me, it’s been hard these last few days as I try to assess its impact on me, tempered by the knowledge that there are those that experienced much worse and by trying to make sure that I don’t blow things out of proportion nor take things too lightly.

For my part, I’ll be observing quiet moments of reflection at 8:45, 9:03, 10:05, and 10:28.

There is some truth to that New Yorker cover.

I remember talking to my friends later that week. Maybe the one thing that surprised all of us was all the calls, checking up on us, wondering if we were okay.

School is nowhere near the Towers. We were somewhat confounded by the frantic calls hoping we were okay.

If I told you that it was 1.5 miles to the towers, you might think that that’s pretty close. Well, no. The Financial District was worlds away from the East Village. It’s at least several subway stops. Maybe a thirty-minute walk. You had to cross through Soho. Chinatown/Little Italy. TriBeCa. Then you were in the Financial District. Worlds apart.

But on that day, no matter where in the five boroughs you lived, to a non-New Yorker you were potentially near the Towers. The towers’ footprint grew to encompass the entirety of New York City. The city shrank to those few city blocks bordered by Trinity, Vesey, West, and Liberty.

I’m still not sure if I can answer the question, “Are you okay?”

Funerals and tragedy

I caught a few bits of last weekend’s edition of CBS Sunday Morning, which was centered around September 11. In one clip, a man likened the attacks and its aftermath to a funeral: many people gather to mourn the passing of a loved one. These are people that don’t normally get together, and may not have seen each other in a long time. After the funeral, they vow to get together sometime soon; only, it never happens. They part, go their separate ways, until the death of another mutual friend.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain how apt that is.