9/11/01: Five Years Later

The WTC from Brooklyn

Five Years.

When something really horrible happens to you, it can warp your sense of time. You feel caught in your agony like a fly in amber; it’s as if the intensity of your pain will never end. And although nothing is completely the same again, sooner or later, the pain begins to release its grip on you, and slowly time begins to move in a more normal manner. Then one day, you realize that weeks, months, even years have gone by since the horrible event.

And here we are, five years after 9/11.

I’ve been doing my damnedest to avoid most of the media hoopla leading up to this day. I don’t need to watch the images again, hear the stories of grief and pain retold. It’s all inside me still. The rawest edges of the horror and sorrow and shock have been worn smooth over time, but even so, all I need to do is close my eyes and it’s all still there.

For those of us for whom New York City was not a series of iconic images on their TV screen or an occasional travel destination, but rather their home, 9/11 can be an intensely personal pain. Those hijackers tore a gaping hole out of my life. My memories of the World Trade Center span not just special events like the dinner with my family at Windows on the World the night of my 18th birthday and drinks with my friend Diana and the rest of her wedding party on her bachelorette weekend in NY, but also hundreds of morning and evening commutes, lunches, trips to the FedEx dropoff in the lobby, visits to friends in their offices. Not to mention that for 10 years, the towers were the first thing I’d see coming out the front door of my old Soho apartment. That those towers no longer exist is something I still haven’t fully come to terms with.

Terrorists cannot steal my memories, but they destroyed the tangible reminder of those memories. It’s a small loss compared to so much else that was destroyed that day, but it’s a real loss nonetheless.

And then there’s Kath.

She was only 40 when she went to work that brilliant September morning. And she never came home. AA Flight 11 slammed right into her office on the 97th floor of One World Trade; we’ll never know for sure, but I’m told her desk was on the opposite side of the building from the impact point and it’s possible that she never even knew what hit her. I pray that that is the truth, because thinking that she might have been standing there at a window, watching the plane heading right for her, is just too painful.

For the first year or so after 9/11, not a day went by that I didn’t think of Kath. And to be honest, five years out, I don’t think about her every single day anymore. But even so, in a way, I feel that I’m living for both of us. That sounds a little odd, and it’s not exactly what I mean, but I do feel a connection and an obligation. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that I feel a responsibility to use this time that I have, which she did not get, in a way that honors her.

We never know what day will be our last. We never know what goodbye will be the final one. And yet, all too often, we waste our precious time. We waste our days at jobs that bore us, we don’t stay in touch with the people who matter to us, we think, ‘There’s always tomorrow’. But sometimes, there isn’t. There’s only a sunny morning, and an airplane flying low over New York City, and the ending of all our dreams.

UPDATE: Read Keith Olbermann.