As I was walking to work this morning I began to think about September 11th. I wasn’t thinking of it because we are two days removed from the three year anniversary, rather, I was thining about it because it was a beautiful cloudless day in September. That’s what will always stick out in my mind about that day three years ago: the image of walking up Third Avenue to Grand Central with blue sky ahead of me and grey sky behind me.
While I was reminiscing this morning during my walk, I realized that the anniversary had meant very little to me or people I know. I had not done anything special on September 11th other than take note that the Towers of Light (or whatever they’re called) were up. It just didn’t seem like something that I needed to celebrate or remember in that way. I had heard that there were all sorts of television specials planned, but I certainly didn’t watch any. September 11th as a holiday seems like something for the rest of the country, not for New York.
I felt the same way about visiting Ground Zero. I’ve never been and only walked by for the first time a few months ago (I purposely avoided it before that). I know that the buildings fell because I watched it happen out my window on Lafayette Street. I saw the faces of people covered in dust, I really don’t need to see the aftermath, cleaned up or not. Essentially, Ground Zero became a place where people who were not in New York on that day could go and feel like they were part of the experience, that they were sharing the pain. I hate to sound like a cynical New Yorker, but they weren’t there and can’t possibly understand what it felt like to be here. It was an experience like nothing I can explain and it’s one I share with every other person that was on this island that day. I don’t mean to exclude the rest of the country, but I just always felt like it was an insincere connection they were making with the experience. It was as if so many could really understand what it was like by buying a T-Shirt, a FDNY hat and visiting Ground Zero. They don’t have the real images permanently etched in their minds, just the ones from CNN and Time Magazine. I remember watching men in suits covered in dust buying beer at 11 in the morning because they didn’t know what else do with themselves. I also remember having to cross a police barrier with armed patrolmen and show ID to get home.
I don’t mean any disrespect to the rest of the world, it’s just always been something that bothered me. I feel as though I own that event, all of us who were there that day do. To watch all these people come in and coopt it is hard to deal with. I’m in no way saying that I’m right, and I’m sure there are victims families who feel like for them, this is a far different and more emotional experience that it was for me. I’m also leaving out those who were in Washington, another city attacked on that day. I’m just speaking as someone who lived and currently lives in New York. For me, and I think for many of us, this didn’t feel like an attack on America, it felt like an attack on New York. Frankly, most of New York doesn’t even associate itself with the rest of the country. We are an island that would probably secede if it could.
In the end, I can’t even refer to the day by one of the many labels it’s been given. It will always be September 11th for me. 9-11 or 9-1-1 just seem wrong, like people are cheapening the event by shortening the name. I don’t get upset really upset about it when I hear it, but it’s just not something that I can do. It’s kind of amazing how a little blue sky in September can bring all these feelings to the surface.