Tag Archives: Dick Oliver

The Danger of the Diluted Memory

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The view from my window on September 11, 2001

At about 1 AM this morning I was in my car and I began to realize how many memories I had filed away from 18 years ago.  There were literally tens of thousands of people whose experience that day was worse than mine, but like so many other New Yorkers who saw parts of it live and spent part of that day in Manhattan, the horrors of that day were very real to me.  Even so it took a mental jolt, one caused by a friend changing a picture on Facebook to bring me back to what I remember from that day, and to remind me of how important it sometimes is to remember the things we want to forget the most.

Everyone who was in New York on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a day that was originally an election day, will remember that the weather was so perfect, that in retrospect it was eerie.  When I saw Dick OIiver of FOX 5 NY first reporting an incident, I recall him saying that it had appeared that a twin engine jet had hit one of the Twin Towers.  Since at the time I was living on the 10th floor of an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, I was able to see the towers from my window.  Seeing the smoke coming the first tower from the window made this all very real very quickly, but what it did not immediately do was make it clear to me that it was an attack.  There were many, including myself who initially thought it was a terrible accident.  Regardless, there was nothing that my staying at home was going to do for anyone so I made my way to the train which going through Manhattan would eventually get me to Brooklyn where I worked at the time.

Some of the images that stuck with me most on that day were the images of people whose expressions of panic and devastation implied they had people in the towers.  At least back then, whenever a major news or sports story hit, there were enough people talking about it on the subway for someone to get wind of what was happening.  So by the time the train was just a few stops in I knew a second plane had hit.  Within a few stops I saw 2 young women crying uncontrollably, looking as though they had a person or people they loved in peril.   When the train arrived at the 34th street and 6th Avenue station it was evacuated, the first car being the car with open doors while all the remaining cars, of which one was the one I was in moving towards the front.  When I got out into the street there were 3 memories that will remain with me forever.  The first one was the fact that the streets were filled with people, and that almost all of these people had one thing in common.  They were walking uptown.  The general feeling seemed to be more of a focused numbness than anything else.  There were no smiles, not a lot of talking and throngs of people doing the only thing that made sense at that moment.  To get as far away from downtown as quickly as possible.

The second thing I remember was standing in front of a store front and seeing the TV on what I remember was WABC NY, with the image of what would later be known as Ground Zero and the words, “Twin Towers, attacked and destroyed”.  Once again it felt very real.

The third thing I remember is something I rarely speak of, likely due to the incredibly sad futility of it and the fact that I will either never know what it was or worse, the fact that what it was would only be described as one of the saddest things I will ever see in my life.  On a side street there was a white car, with the windows down and the news blasting from its speakers, and outside there was what I am guessing was a Japanese couple most likely in their late 40s or 50s, the man pacing back and forth and together with his female companion sobbing almost to the point of screams.  All I could imagine was that their child was in one of the towers, and somehow they knew that he or she had been killed in the attacks.

I remember the fear I felt by the rumor that there were more planes unaccounted for, and knowing that being around the corner from the Empire State Building made us all vulnerable.  I remember walking to and over the 59th Street Bridge, looking downtown and seeing the trail of smoke, while walking next to people covered in the grey dust that covered anyone who was close enough to feel the effects of the attack.  And I remember the smell.  Everyone who was in Manhattan either on that day or days following remembers the smell.  The smell of burning, the smell of devastation, the smell of death.

The worst thing about everything I have just recounted is what I said way back in the beginning of this piece, and that is that compared to many on that day, I saw and experienced nothing.

So 18 years later, as impactful of a day as that was, it was not till today at about 2 AM that I started to remember these things.  And it dawned on me once again how important it is to keep memories like this alive.  It dawned on me that I am very likely far from alone in allowing the memory of that day to become diluted.  And it brought me back again to the importance of reminding people of the things they sometimes want to forget the most.  If 18 years and 3,000 people later the memory of September 11th is weakened to me, someone who does care, it’s even more clear to me how important it is to keep talking about 75 years ago and 6 million.

May the souls of all of those lost on or as a result of September 11, 2001 always be blessed and may we honor them by never forgetting what happened on that awful day.

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