It’s been 20 years… seems like yesterday… I remember that morning with such a clarity, I was working in Tampa for WebMD, good job, great family, young man… life was good. My wife called me at about 10 minutes to 9 to tell me a plane had flown into the WTC – I immediately discounted it since she listened to shock jock radio in the mornings and this seemed like their kind of nonsense, but she insisted it was true.
I made my way down to a conference room where people were starting to gather around the TV… five minutes later the second plane goes in and the world wasn’t going to ever be the same… I didn’t know it but my cousin Gary died on the 92nd floor of the South Tower that morning… I wouldn’t find out till the next day. We traveled up for his memorial service… they never recovered his body…
It was my 36th birthday weekend, we came together as a family, cried, hugged, talked till we had no more words, but nothing was going to make this okay. I wrote this piece on the flight home, long hand in a notebook long before the days I was writing seriously and publishing my work…
Although it has only been a little more than six weeks since September 11th time plays on my emotions, some days it seems as if it were yesterday and others as if many months have passed. Even so, the memories do not seem to fade. In many ways, the whole series of events did not seem real as it unfolded across my TV screen. I guess a part of me is still trying not to acknowledge the broad ramifications of that day.
I watch my children as they laugh and move past the news of the day. I wonder what unforeseen impact this will have on their young lives. My daughter, seven and still full of a precious innocence, struggles to grasp what it means that so many people lost their lives for no apparent reason. I sense their confusion when I struggle to hold back tears.
This weekend I brought the family with me to New Jersey. A trip that would normally be filled with anticipation and excitement was subdued. It wasn’t just that we were attending my cousin’s memorial, He was last seen on the 92nd floor of WTC tower II, but I was struck by the lost innocence of America. Soldiers at security check points, a mixture of fear and suspicion in my fellow travelers, a sense of anxiety.
As I sit next to my daughter on the flight home, I play back the past few days. The fierce determination of my Uncle to be strong for his family, he is a rock to hold onto. A man who has worked hard for more than forty years earning his living every day as an integral part of the fabric of this country, now strangled by emotions that are impossible to understand and harder still to control. My aunt grief stricken and unconsolable, my cousins desperately trying to come to terms with the loss of a big brother and best friend. I see his friends and co-workers, some survivors themselves, as they slowly parade through the day. Somehow, I feel outside, watching a filmstrip that doesn’t end and can’t be stopped.
I remember us growing up together, weekends at Grandma’s, and his visits to our farm. We were like brothers, but it seems a lifetime ago. Now I watch my children play with his daughter, and I wish I had made more of an effort to stay close, to have found a way to reconnect with him. My uncle and I desperately try to catch up the years, but with only a few brief hours, it is difficult.
I feel a gentle reassurance though that this family will find its way through and will gather again unto each other. We have lost so many in the past few years. My Mother, Father, Grandmother, and now my cousin. As we hold each other close, I believe we all know that we can no longer afford the assumption of tomorrow. We have paid the price of our apathy and it is dearly heavy.
This morning before flying out I drove to the city with my family. I pointed out where their grandfather had grown up, and then Ellis Island where their Great Grandparents arrived from Italy. I looked upon a skyline that seemed strange without that unique character that was New York. I can remember as a child crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn on the way to Coney Island with my father. I would stare in wonder at the Trade Center Towers as they stretched above the skyline, today nothing but a smoky haze. I searched for a way to describe how wrong it all seemed, there are no words.
As I travel, home I realize that I had hoped to bring some closure with this trip. I understand now how impossible that is. I find myself settling for tacit acceptance that some losses just can’t and shouldn’t be erased. With this acceptance comes a clearer understanding of the responsibilities I have to both those I hold dearest and those who have become a part of my life. Those of you who know me well, understand the passion I approach life with. I now have a new found vibrancy and respect for those moments we all share and the experiences that are waiting for us. I look forward to catching up with my family and growing to know new friends. I take a moment to pause and savor the unique wonder that is life. I can’t fill the loss of my cousin or those who perished with him, but I, for one, will not squander the gift they have given me, the renewal of an apathetic spirit and the rekindling of a passion for life.