September 11th was the clearest, most crisp day I can ever remember. My eighth grade school year had kicked off and summer was still in the air. However, by nine o’clock, my classmates were being called home. Smoke could be seen gently rising over the New York skyline as I peered out my classroom window in Queens. By noon, those students who were left in school were brought to the church to wait until we were picked up. I gathered my brother and sister, and we prayed as a school for those at the World Trade Center. As my grandmother drove us home, the sky was black, and it remained an opaque shade of gray for weeks.
My grandmother came to get us that day because my father was a Lieutenant in the FDNY at the time, and my mother is a Registered Nurse. Both of my parents immediately ran to lower Manhattan that morning, as did most members my blue-collar neighborhood. I waited all day for word from my father as reports of the death toll came slowly by word of mouth. I was blessed when both my parents came home, but my neighborhood changed forever. For months, well into the next spring, funerals were held for those who worked in the Trade Center and those who answered the call that day. Memorials were held for those who never came home. As an Altar Server at my elementary school, bagpipes and incense became the norm for me, as I helped bury the parents and relatives of my friends and neighbors.
Ten years later, in May 2011, I daydreamed from my classroom of 13th Street and 5th Avenue as I watched the construction of the World Trade Center from my desk. The World Trade Center was a staple of my childhood as we lay in the grass and watched the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks at my neighborhood park. Now, I stared at the new World Trade Center, shiny and defiant, as I contemplated the death of Osama bin Laden.
This week, One World Trade Center is the tallest building in Manhattan. For many of those I grew up with, who lost parents, siblings, uncles, and aunts, this all has taken far too long. The building itself has gone up quickly, but the infighting that occurred before the construction began taught those of us who had been directly affected by this tragedy that those at the top are more concerned with money and real estate then they were about healing our city. I never imagined at 13 years old, I would be 24 and the World Trade Center would only now be more than a gaping hole in the ground and a metaphorical one in our hearts.
Coincidentally, this week marks the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. In 8th grade, my blood boiled. I wanted revenge for my friends who had their families destroyed. Each time I saw someone who lost a family member that day in the deli, at church, or at a game, I remembered Osama bin Laden was out there, while my father and hundreds of other New Yorkers were still digging for remains.
However, in May 2011, my feelings were vastly different. The time that passed between 2001 and 2011 left me empty. As I switched on the TV for Obama’s big announcement, I intuitively knew Osama bin Laden had died. People celebrated in the streets in D.C. and Manhattan, but my neighborhood was quiet. It was a somber evening; it reopened a chapter of history that was not closed, but had been buried deep inside of us. My father lost 343 of his brothers that day, and although we were happy to see Osama bin Laden go, there was no joy. It is the same feeling I have toward the World Trade Center. I’m glad its done, but it doesn’t make up for how long it took.
This week, as I hear President Obama and Mitt Romney trading barbs on this event and its aftermath, I’m greatly saddened. I don’t pretend to speak for anyone but myself; I would never be audacious enough to do so. However, no one has the right to play September 11 for politics. Too many had their lives changed that day.
I don’t know how the rest of the country, or even the rest of my state, remembers September 11 and the death of Osama bin Laden.
For me, September 11 will always be a cloud of dust and debris on the skyline, while I sit on the swings with my 8th grade friends. It will be hugging my dad as he came home from Ground Zero, week after week, and smelling not like smoke, but the smoldering ash and dust that clung to his coat. It will be attending a funeral for an FDNY Lieutenant eight months after he was killed and four months after his family had his memorial service, all because a small piece of his bunker gear was found. It will be coaching my friend’s little siblings, now nearly 12-years-old, who were born shortly after their fathers perished on that day.
I am thankful that the World Trade Center won’t be a hole in the ground, and I suppose I am glad that Osama bin Laden is at the bottom of the ocean. Still, nothing will change what happened that day to the families and friends of the 2,996 people who perished. It doesn’t change the lives of those in the military, and their loved ones, who have been at war since that day.
Please don’t forget that as we cheer a new building on our skyline and the death of a man in Pakistan nearly 12 years later.