Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flashback - New York 9/11

Four days after September 11, 2001 I found myself walking through the streets of lower Manhattan.

The smell of ash lingered in the air as the residue of gray smoke still hung over the city. Curious the need to be close to the disaster so soon after, but the need to be close was strong. We walked among the crowds still shell shocked and in a haze. Beyond our frequent glances upward in a furtive search for those two missing reminders of what was lost, the acrid smell still burning in the air is what remains in my memory. I remember noticing the orange halo which seemed to pour itself around the city sky, sunlight streaming through the smoky haze. From a distance, it seemed to form a protective gauze around the island, a bandage that wrapped the city protectively against the now clear blue fall sky.

There were the stories from friend who worked there that day and had managed to escape. One friend recalling making it to a ferry out of the city still covered in dust, dazed and still not quite sure what had occurred.  Later, it was learning of a friend's friend, co-worker, or family member who knew or had lost someone that day.

What I recall most walking the blocks of downtown so soon after that day were the streets filled with so many people, many still searching for unaccounted for family or friends.  Bust still,  there were those drawn not simply out of a curious need, but an attempt to help each other and heal themselves. They showed up to bear witness, to stand up for the spirit of the city and provide comfort to those now in a desperate search for loved ones. What I hadn't expected that day was the strength and hope of the many who walked the streets with fliers and pictures of loved ones. Introducing themselves to one another, holding posters of missing loved ones, making friends with strangers, and reaching out in ways that occur rarely in large cities beyond times of crisis.

They relatives and friend of those still missing secured pictures lovingly on street posts and poles, on bulletin boards, and on building walls in the hope that somehow they had managed to survive. Back then, so soon after, the hope that injured relatives might still be alive in a hospital or still caught under the wreckage of destroyed buildings. Hope was still alive. These homemade tributes were of their family and friends. They were not then victims or a survivors but people not yet memorialized. The pictures then were tributes to a family's love and hope they were still alive, to their value as people who were being recognized for what they had so recently brought to the world. Their memories were still fresh, just days before they were alive, vibrant, loving human beings with families, friends, and loved ones who thought enough to come into the city that day with pictures and flyers, and testaments of their worth.

The legacy that day is not what was lost, but what was gained. It was the recognition that each individual who had died makes a contribution in someone's life. Which, in turn, is transformed by each loving memory. They may have been posting pictures around the city that day, but the real memory of who they were and, to a larger extent, still are, will forever be posted on the poles and bulletin boards of the hearts whose lives they touched.

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