It’s been eighteen years since September 11th. How is this possible? It seems like just yesterday we all experienced chaos and uncertainty, sadness and loss. The hands of time just keeps moving, and that infamous day creeps further into the past each year. Even so, no New Yorker ever wants to forget. At least 275 people living on Staten Island, or who once lived on the Island, were lost on that fateful day.
Various memorial ceremonies were held across Staten Island and beyond. On September 11th of this year, nearly everywhere you went, there were reminders of our City’s, and Nation’s, terrible loss. From the Angels’ Circle in Grasmere, to firehouses across the city that lost brave firefighters now nearly two decades ago, we remembered.
In the days and weeks following the harrowing events of 9-11, there were so many mixed emotions. Shock. Loss. Anger. Sadness.But anyone living in Westerleigh, and elsewhere, also remembers something else, something positive. We all came together. Attacked as a people, as a country, we all understood there was something more important than pettiness.
The love and kindness, understanding and togetherness that we all felt in those days and weeks was very real. And, that was the gift that was inadvertently brought to us by the perpetrators of these crimes; they couldn’t have imagined how the events would galvanize us all to care about our communities, those experiencing loss, and one another. We all prayed. We all cried. Some of us toiled endlessly to undo the damage, at least the physical aspect of it.
So many men and women labored daily, with little sleep, on “the pile”, the steaming, stinking wreckage of the World Trade Center. In the years since, many have succumbed to rare cancers and other illnesses, and have themselves made the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives slowly, so that the rest of us could go on and live another day. So that their brother firefighters’ remains could have a dignified burial. So that the giant wound in lower Manhattan could slowly be transformed back into a place where life happens, and not death.
Who doesn’t remember what they were doing on that blue-skied day? Most of us responded with disbelief. Some of us witnessed the towers going down. Others were covered in dust from the cloud that spread like a cyclone through Manhattan’s streets. But all of us, no matter our skin color, religion, or national origin, felt the tremendous weight of the event. Our idyllic American life had been shattered in place; interlopers had stolen our peace and joy, our friends and family, in one fell swoop.
The Twin Towers stood as reminders of our prosperity, of all that was right and good about America. Sure; we had our issues, but we also had our National Pride. Perhaps attacking the Statue of Liberty would have been the only symbol for New Yorkers that could have equaled the WTC buildings in terms of an attack on a physical structure that stood for America and NYC.
But then, there weren’t thousands of innocent people there, and so maybe that wouldn’t have even felt as badly as losing the World Trade Center. It wasn’t just a symbol the craven terrorists took from us that day, it was thousands of lives, lives that matters to tens of thousands more people, their co-workers, neighbors, wives, husbands, kids, family, and friends.
The void created by the loss of lives fostered something entirely unanticipated. In this way, the attacks backfired on the perpetrators. A show of American resilience and love was with us all, and if anything, this is the most important part of what we should never forget. The sacrifices made were real. But so was the concern for one’s neighbor, the extra consideration we all gave to one another after the tragedy.
FDNY Rescue 5, located on Clove Road, lost eleven of its bravest on 9-11. Other firehouses across the borough, and the city, also suffered incredible losses. Of the nearly 3,00 innocent souls snuffed out that day, 343 were firefighters, 37 were Port Authority Police, and 23 were NYPD officers. While memorial services will not bring back those heroes who gave their all, the candle lighting ceremonies and memorials renew hope that their lives were not taken in vain.
We must all remember. Those born after 9-11 must be taught the meaning of the day: the value of sacrifice, the unequaled splendor of valor. 9-11-2001 must never become “just another day,” just another part of history. 9-11 changed America forever.
Those responsible made a big mistake, and the repercussions are yet reverberating throughout our society and our City. It’s not over yet, not by a long shot. Many first responders are still dying; many of the Bravest are still falling ill from the most mysterious illnesses, no doubt caused by working at Ground Zero, hissing with molten steel, asbestos, and chemicals of all sorts. How will 9-11 yet change our city? Can this horrible event still affect positive change, even after nearly twenty years? It must.
There were stories of miracles. Stories of utter tragedy. Stories of ultimate sacrifice. Eighteen years is not quite so long ago as it seems. The names were read again. The tears flowed again. Now, we have the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund enacted into law (The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund), thanks to President Trump.
This summer also saw the 5th Annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation Golf Outing at Liberty National Golf Course, hosted annually by The Honorable Rudolph Giuliani, NYC’s mayor at the time of 9-11. Each and every time I have been there, it reminds me that not everything that resulted from 9-11 was negative. The outpouring of love was palpable at Liberty National each year; no words can truly describe how it felt. For a writer, that’s rare.
From darkness, let there be Light! May the victims’ lives never be forgotten. GOD BLESS AMERICA!
GOD BLESS AMERICA! pic.twitter.com/VklXvWggKJ
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) September 11, 2019