I, like so many others, have written and spoken volumes on our personal experiences surrounding September eleventh. I, like so many others, need not read, write or speak of such memories for them to be just as fresh as they were by noon of that particular day. As the day went on, more memories, many of them, horrific, became part of who we would become and I am left with finding new ways to keep my personal promise to never forget and today, as I reflect, I want to spend time remembering those things that, when I close my eyes and look backwards, I recall most vividly. Faces. Expressions of courage that surmounted those of panic, horror, shock and disbelief.
Soot-covered fellow train passengers come to mind. They looked like statues as they joined us, the hundreds of other commuters as we traveled to the safety of our homes in utter and complete, bone-dense silence. Alone in our thoughts but joined in our fear and our total lack of knowledge of the next steps as our world spun quickly into a new and very different place. We didn't know at the time that we had changed planets, that fourteen years later, we would still be trying to get back to Earth. We didn't know that we never would, never can, ever. Can we?
In all of my New York City-Post-9/11 memories, the one that is most alive is that of the city the days after. The order to restore order came from our commander, our mayor, who implored us to go on living, to not allow this act of terrorism to terrorize us. He asked that we carry on and that we do all of those things we had planned to do.....as if nothing ever happened. Looking back now, I wonder if he also was in shock and grieving, and if he had entered the denial phase, attempting to recruit the millions so as to validate what he did not want to believe as true.
I had theater tickets for the Sunday following the attack, not quite one week later.
The show was"Contact" and I went with a friend. We followed the mayor's orders. It wasn't my first time back in the city. I had returned to work a few days before, when it was deemed "safe" to re-enter the zone, when the all-clear had resounded through the boroughs and we honestly thought it was over and we need not carry gas-masks in place of happy little purses. At least that was what was expected of those of us who had to soothe and calm those in our charges. I was not allowed to show signs of doubt or fear lest the people who looked to the company's healthcare professional lose confidence. So, I needed to be strong and resilient and I stepped up to the plate and wiped up tears and tears and tears, but not mine. My office became a hallowed ground for so many who needed to run away from the reality of their losses. Thursday and Friday of that week were two of the most challenging of my entire career. Stay calm, Smile, Comfort and care. The worst is yet to come but for now, be soothed.
Arriving at the train station on my way to the theater that Sunday catapulted me into a new and surreal experience. One that I can taste to this day. Quietly, small hands-full of people moved about on their way to wherever they needed to be. Everyone seemed to be best friends with everyone else, something that is rarely seen in New York City and certainly not at Grand Central Station where everyone is invisible most of the time. It was a feeling that penetrated my body, my soul and, alone, I was able to finally feel the emotion that was trapped inside of my head for days, sorrow and a tremendous sense of not only loss but inadequacy. I wanted to put my arms around the city, to embrace it and soothe it as I did the people who visited me during the prior days when, in my professional capacity, I was not helpless. But now, my friend was hurting and there was nothing I could do to help. I found a phone, called my daughter and shared my grief before joining my friend and a full-house of others at the show.
Needless to say, extraordinary things happened during that time period, so many unexpected and filled with emotion. For weeks, we took such good care of each other, still going through the phases of grief before we came to the acceptance phase, where we all would agree that things were different and would never be the same. And, I finally allowed myself to cry, in public, without fear of the consequences, when the cast of the show, in lieu of a curtain call, held hands and led the audience in singing, "God Bless America". We all cried. I knew though, at that moment, that we could carry on and that we would eventually be okay again if never the same.