Reflecting upon last week’s 9/11 anniversary…
I can’t believe it has been 13 years since the terror that gripped our nation on September 11, 2001. In some ways it feels like it happened long ago, yet in other ways it feels like it took place just yesterday.
A little after 8:30 a.m. that morning, I was teaching my first class when a colleague ran in and blurted out something about a plane flying into one of the Twin Towers. She had taken her class to the library where they witnessed the unimaginable on a big screen TV. I stopped my lesson abruptly. My students and I raced down to the library where we were informed that a second plane had just hit the South Tower. The news kept repeating the horrific event. By this time, a good deal of the student body crowded into the library. The cavernous room was completely silent as we all stood shocked, unable to calibrate the horror that played out before our eyes.
I reflected on my personal connection to the Twin Towers. Just a few years before, I took my classes on a field trip to New York City. It was such a lovely day. We went down to the South Street Seaport, and then proceeded on to the Twin Towers. A brief elevator ride brought us to what was called “Top of the World Trade Center Observatories,” with an indoor area on the 107th floor and a viewing platform on the 110th floor. We got a light lunch there and then took up benches behind tall windows affording breathtaking views of lower Manhattan. This especially windy day didn’t allow for access to the outside viewing platform. But the trip was so much fun that for my niece Kim’s birthday the following year, I traced the school field trip and made some additions.
It was a sunny day with just a hint of a refreshing breeze filling the air, making it perfect for a ride on the Circle Line Ferry, which took us for a close-up view of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. After our ferry ride, we made our way to the Twin Towers and took the elevator up to the 107th floor observation area. What luck we had on that day. This time the outdoor observation deck was open so Kim and I took full advantage of that. She loved being so high up and getting such a brilliant view of the entire city.
Kim and I had such a spectacular day, that for my nephew Richard’s birthday the following year, I wanted him to have the same special experience. This time, with some changes to our itinerary, we decided to start at Greenwich Village.
I promised Rich some new clothes for his birthday. I was thinking of a new pair of pants and a tailored shirt. But as a young teen, he wanted anything but what I had in mind. Being a musician, even then, Rich wanted to check out every music shop in the Village. So, in and out of several shops we went until he happened upon a music store that had a display of T-shirts in the back. His eye caught a heavy metal band T-shirt and he enthusiastically made a selection quite certain this made the perfect gift. It was not at all what I had envisioned buying for him, but it was his birthday. He deserved the right to make his choice.
Delighted with his new shirt, we proceeded down Bank Street. Both of us were famished. Once again, our visions were vastly different. I searched out a little café, but Rich stopped in front of a greasy spoon pizza parlor and was set on a couple of slices. We got our pizza and sat at a rickety steel table with spartan wooden chairs.
Upon his first bite, Rich enthusiastically exclaimed, “Oh, aunt, this is the best pizza I’ve ever had!” Inside I was amused. This day was not turning out as I had planned, but it was everything Rich wanted. Since we are all unique individuals, our views of “perfection” are vastly different. This was Rich’s day and he was allowed to enjoy his perfection, though it was contradictory to my own.
After our ‘excellent’ pizza lunch, we hiked to the Twin Towers. I was eager for Rich to experience the excitement that filled his sister on that magical day when we explored the observation decks high above the streets. But my first mistake was not realizing how far they really were from the village. We walked for what felt like an interminable distance.
Once there, I was filled with anticipation as we took the elevator to the top of the tower. We walked around the inner observation area. At one point, I scooted onto a bench to get close to the tall windows and that magnificent view of lower Manhattan. Rich hesitated behind the bench. I looked over my shoulder to where Rich was standing and asked him to join me. I wanted him to see it all. He slowly and reluctantly approached the side of the bench, then lightly sat beside me. I’ll never forget how he extended a hand, touched the window, then asked, “Can these windows fall out?” His words registered and I suddenly realized he might be suffering from a fear of heights. I assured him, “Oh, no, honey, these windows can’t fall out.”
I checked on the outdoor viewing platform and to my delight, it was open. Rich and I walked one big circle around as I pointed out some city highlights. I was in my element, but a rough wind blew Rich’s Yankee cap off his head making him even more fearful of being so high up.
In the end, I was sorry that he didn’t appreciate the experience half as much as his sister did.
Once back down to ground level, we sat on nearby steps. Rich asked what type of work people did in this area. I explained that it was a large financial hub of New York City. I told him that if he liked the city, he could get a job here when he grew up.
Rich, the musician, remained a musician. He is a virtuoso guitarist able to play everything from classical to rock. Today he is a teacher on Long Island and a composer. Though he enjoys the city, he never had the desire to live there.
I am glad I gave my niece and nephew the experience of being in the once majestic Twin Towers. They know that they had a special day that, due to the horror of 9/11, could never be replicated—though the 1 World Trade Center tower at Ground Zero will open later this year.
Over the past 13 years since those planes took so many lives and destroyed our beloved twin towers, Rich’s words continue to haunt me. “Can these windows fall out?” Words that seemed to me rather impossible at the time have resonated as truly prophetic.
Barbara Anne Kirshner is the author of Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund. She will be reading from and discussing her book at Book Revue in Huntington (313 New York Avenue) on Thursday, October 9 at 7 p.m. Visit bookrevue.com for more info.