The last time I was in New York City was the summer of 2000. At that time I had no inclination that our world, as Americans, was about to change. I remember when I was young, my grandmother would recount the story of where she was when Kennedy was shot. She had blood poisoning creeping up her arm and was out hanging laundry in the yard. Of course, everyone was transfixed by their televisions as the whole devastating mess unfolded.
Much was the same when the Twin Towers fell. I got a call from my mother who very succinctly ask me if I was watching the television. I said that I wasn’t. I was instead laying on the couch staring into space because my wisdom teeth extraction had turned to dry socket and I was in terrible pain. She declared that we were “under attack” and recommended I go turn on the TV. Then she went back to taking care of her class at school, leaving me to wander into the TV room and start flipping through the stations. Channel after channel showed similar footage, and I watched live as the second tower collapsed and men and women leapt to their deaths.
Ten days later I left for Ireland, via Newark, NJ. It was recommended that we show up about five hours before departure and there was no guarantee that we would actually be making our international flight. We did eventually depart, but security was tight and customs took an inordinate amount of time. From there I watched the perception of my country’s plight change from empathy to anger. Near the end of my year in Ireland, my accent marked me an “Ugly American,” and I could hardly order coffee without someone making a comment about our impending involvement in Iraq. Our ultimate reaction was treated with both confusion and disdain.
And so recently, when my sister-in-law, Kristin, invited me to take a day trip to NYC – I was both excited and anxious. I still can’t watch any programming about 9/11 without becoming a complete emotional mess. The whole thing has left me completely traumatized. At times I feel guilty about my reaction because I haven’t personally lost anyone to the attacks or the wars, and yet I continue to carry it as a very personal loss. There are other times when I feel this reaction is appropriate. Perhaps if we all continued to feel the great communal loss of that event there would be less focus on banning birth control and more energy and interest placed on our foreign policy and diplomacy…
We took a bus to N.Y.C. from Nazareth. From there we took the subway to the World Trade Center. We walked up the steps, out of the station, and there it was: the tallest building in New York. Just days before our visit the construction team was able to announce that they had placed the beam that officially made the second tower taller than the Empire State Building. Looking up, up, up, I witnessed the tower fade into the clouds. It was an awesome moment of reflection on our capacity as humans to both create and to destroy. I managed to keep it together in that instance, and have since found the experience to be a calming thought in an otherwise vivid and terrible memory.