This morning, while you read this blog, I am standing near Ground Zero. The first time I stood in this part of Manhattan, it was not Ground Zero. It was the twin towers. It was World Trade Center 1 and World Trade Center 2. The summer before 9/11, I stood at the base of both and looked up, searching for the top. I couldn't see it from the sidewalk.
When we went up to the observation deck, I opted not to go up to the roof. Instead, I sat at the window and stared off to the north, admiring the city from above. I'd been to the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago years earlier. But this? To be up so high overlooking my absolute favorite city? It felt like being on the top of the world.
Heaven. It felt a little bit like heaven.
I was 16 years old when the attacks took place a little more than a year later. Young enough for a piece of my innocence to shatter. Old enough to understand the implications of what was occurring - to know that nothing would ever be the same.
A couple of years ago, I blogged about my experience that day. Ten years later, I can still remember it as clear as crystal. Every year around the anniversary, the events of that day play in my head like a movie. Because that's exactly what it felt like: a drama of horrific proportions. If it felt like that for me, I can't imagine what it was like standing beneath or within the twin towers or outside of the Pentagon.
Hell. It must have felt like hell.
In November 2002, I was standing at the wrought-iron fence between St. Paul's and what was already being called Ground Zero. The posts were still covered in memorials. Flowers. American flags. Candles burned quietly on the sidewalk. It was like being in a cemetery. Despite the hundreds of people wandering the streets, you could hear a pin drop. Reverence.
I've been back to the city a couple of times since then - most recently on our anniversary trip last May. It's interesting to see how much the area has changed since the attacks. To watch it evolve.
Many things have evolved since before that day. In the weeks that followed, I remember the unity. The compassion. The pride of watching the rescue workers at Ground Zero raise the American flag. And then? I remember not feeling as proud of that flag. The hatred. The racism. The politics. The polarizing. 10 years later, it continues.
I often wonder how the family members of the victims must feel. It's not like losing a loved one in a car accident where, after the funeral is held, you are left to cope in private. Instead, your child or spouse or sibling or parent loses his or her life in this national tragedy. One that's spawned wars (military and political), museums, monuments, documentaries, and books. One that's changed history books. A tragedy that's claimed by millions - even though its your own. How do you cope? How do you move forward? How do you ensure that your loved one's legacy isn't somehow caught in the rhetoric that surrounds 9/11? How do you "share" that grief with so many others who don't know and don't understand your loss on a personal level? They seem like impossible feats to overcome.
We, as a country, will never go back to what we were before that day. I imagine none of the families whose loved ones died will, either. Collectively, we lost. We lost hope. We lost innocence. But, most of all, we lost people.
That's what I'll be thinking about today: people. The people who were lost and the people who lost. People who were someone's "someone." People who were loved. People who loved. People who didn't get to leave this earth peacefully. And the people who will never get to mourn their loss in private. I will never share your grief. I will never understand your pain. But I will mourn for you.
We all will.