‘Somebody said an airplane crashed into a building’

So the comments at work began on a Thursday morning in 2001. When the second plane hit a building, we knew this was more than a simple crash.

Most of us went home and watched the news, saw both buildings fall, hoped until the last minute that United flight 93 would survive, but as we learned what happened, we could only praise the heroism of those who fought back against their hijackers.

Later we remember the President visiting ground zero, people saying they couldn’t hear what he was saying, and then he grabbed a bullhorn and said, “Can you hear me now?” Those words were what we needed.

I learned that an online friend of mine was in one of the buildings when the plane hit, how she made her way down countless stairs, emerged into windswept ash and the cries of the lost and wounded, and walked a mile in a pair of shoes she found on the street.

The stats–the number of dead, the dollars of damage done, the squabbles over what to do with the site, the size of an attack that dwarfed Pearl Harbor–all failed to catch our attention when compared to the work of the first responders and everyday people who were heroic in spite of their fears on that day.

I don’t know how New Yorkers feel when they visit the memorial. The project had so many competing ideas, I remember thinking at the time that the result was going to look like everything done by a committee. Nonetheless, I think we did the best we could, and I hope people are reverent there and treat it as sacred ground, in the same manner we respect of Battleship Arizona memorial and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

So far, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit this memorial, and if I did, I think it would be too much to bear for I would hear the voices still screaming there as I do when I quietly walk through Civil War battlefields and cemeteries. Each of us interprets the aftermath as we can even though we may not understand the memories of the dead or the survivors who suffered this tragedy in person: one can only feel humble in their long shadows.

–Malcolm