As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Osama Bin Laden is dead. To many, the events of 5/1/11 stir up a lot of memories and feelings of relief, joy, anger or sadness. I was living in Brooklyn at the time of the 9/11 attacks and the post that follows is a recount of my 9/11 experience which I wrote 5 years ago that I thought would be an interesting read today.
Before I get to that I’d like to share some of the best insight I’ve seen on yesterday’s events from Facebook:
“I am not certain human beings will know world peace until we can equate justice with reconciliation instead of retaliation.”
“So it took 10 years for mankind’s largest and most technologically advanced military to take out one guy and we’re actually PLEASED with the results, huh?”
“Osama Bin Laden existed as a symbol of hate, evil, and horrifying destruction. Let the world celebrate not the death of a man, but triumph over darkness, pain, and fear.”
“Relief looks a lot like joy, don’t judge those that are out celebrating together, they need this.”
I feel that all these years later I can relate to all of these but Melissa’s hits home the most.
I watched on TV last night the scene in NY and despite all the cynicism, misplaced joy and other feelings I wished I there with those people. I’m not into celebrating the death of anyone but the symbolism of this is big but the feelings in this article still hold true.
Thanks and I hope you find it interesting.
I’ve got the scars to remind me…
…I’ve watch the clocks go ’round.
Walked myself through some days
that have put me where I am.
In another time, In another place
all things might have been in place
But for now I’m finding myself up here standing on a rooftop screaming.
Hey world are you listening… listening to me?
I’m here and I’m hurting to begin again.
It’s another time, it’s another place.
We are making more old days.
But for now I’m finding myself out and standing on my doorstep screaming.
Hey world are you listening… listening to me?
I’m here and I’m hurting to begin again.
Hey world I’m ready to listen… and learn something new.
I’m here and I’m willing to get myself through.
– Hot Water Music “Rooftops”
I wasn’t going to do this but Zeldman’s post stirred up a lot in me.
Has it really been five years? I really don’t know what to do… it still seems so unbelievable. I feel like I have spent the last 5 years living in a bad dream just waiting to wake up. I still sorta lie to myself about things. I let the media corrupt me and my memories of what happened that day. I feel cheap and used. Until recently I had almost completely forgotten parts of it. As if they were blocked out of my memory.
The endless smoke. The smell of burning and ash. The jumpers. The smoldering holes that were once buildings. How they didn’t stop burning for weeks.
A few weeks back I went upstate with Christine and her family and found papers from 9/12. I looked though them and every article was in somehow related to the towers. It was like everything else in the world just froze. Like someone put the rest of history on pause for a moment. I had forgotten that baseball went on hiatus, or how long it was before planes were flying again. And how weird it was to hear fighter jets overhead rather than the commercial planes that you were so used to you barely even noticed them anymore.
I was living in Brooklyn at the time, attending the Pratt Institute. I remember everything like it was yesterday. My roommate Dan and I were on our way to class when the guys across the hall from us yelled, stopping us from getting on the elevator.
“Some idiot flew a plane into one of the Twin Towers.”
We ran into his room where his roommate was videotaping it from his window. Although it disgusts me to admit now, honestly… at the time…. we laughed. We laughed recounting the famous story of the plane that hit the state building back in the 40’s. Thinking this to be the same: a very public accident of small scale.
What you have to realize is that we had no idea of scale, we figured it was some private plane and honestly didn’t even think about size or injury. It seemed impossible that anything could even damage the towers, so we didn’t even think anything of it. The longer we stood there, the more smoke I saw, the more serious it felt. But we also figured we were late for class, so we’d better get a move on.
When I got to class most of my classmates hadn’t even heard about it. About 10 minutes in someone comes running into our room and yells:
“A plane just flew and hit both Trade Towers!”
Half of our class went running into the other room to go look out from their window. Once again: the issue of scale. You never really realized how big those things were until a plane flew into them. It seemed reasonable to many to believe that they were close enough together that one plane’s wingspan could hit both towers. As I looked from the window and watched the North and South towers billowing out black smoke it hit me. I was the first one to say it aloud:
“The one tower was already smoking when I left my room this morning, the second one just happened. This is no accident, someone planned this.”
It just seemed inconceivable at the time to everyone in the room and honestly I forget sometimes how carefree we all were before that day. The teacher rushed us back to our respective room where we continued class for a bit. Time passed and he called for a break. I started walking to the on campus cafeteria and attempted to phone my parents back home… strangely I couldn’t get a signal out at first.
“Turn off your phone @$$hole! Other people need to use the networks.”
Confused and completely caught off guard, I looked up at the upperclassmen had just yelled this at me and I didn’t know what to make of it. The phone was useless anyhow so I shut it off. When I got into the cafeteria it was like nothing I had ever seen before. A massive amount of people were crowded around the TVs that were mounted on the ceiling. Someone had changed the channel from the usual corporate marketing bullshit CTN (college television network) and put on the news. I stood there frozen in shock with my peers as we watched the first tower fall. When I managed to regain thought I then rushed myself to my room and put on CNN. Dan had just arrived as well and we sat and watched in astonishment as the second tower fell.
Neither of us knew what to do, we both agreed that we weren’t going back to class. Fuck class. We spent the rest of the day just in a fog sitting there dumbstruck. I remember trying to load up CNN and it crawling. Going even to a white page with headlines briefly announcing countries that were wishing their sympathies. Horribly enough Afghanistan was the first to issue a statement of sympathy. It wasn’t for a few days before we would realize the grim irony in that.
The first thing on everyone’s mind was war. And honestly the first nation people thought of was Iraq. It was no secret even back in 2001, BEFORE 9/11 that Bush wanted to invade Iraq. There were still our enemy, the media had conditioned us to think that way so it seemed to make sense that they might would perpetrate such an evil. All I could scrounge up from the news though was something about an unmanned US spy plane being shot down over Iraq that morning. Something I’ve never seen or heard mentioned since.
At some point I made it to the rooftop of my building and snapped the photograph you see above. The door to the roof was normally locked at threat of expulsion, but somehow none of that really mattered anymore.
My biggest regret, the one thing that gets me to this very day is that I was so close and yet, all I did was sit there and watch TV, like everyone else. I should have taken off and gone into the city and found a way to help but I sat there and did nothing like a zombie.
I can’t explain exactly why I’m writing this or what conclusion I am hoping to come to, the fact is I don’t think I have one. I’m writing this just to write it, just to put it out there. I can’t explain what this is better than Zeldman did so I won’t try:
“These mini-essays are not art. They are not reportage, either (but what is?), and may not even be accurate. We were all a bit dazed–although not so dulled as now. The shock and sorrow were fresh. The events of September 11th had not yet been branded, nor turned into tools of partisan rancor, nor made into a mini-series, nor used to justify atrocity.”
So much of our world changed on that day and for once people really came together. Now I look at where we are today and I am concerned that we haven’t learned a thing. In fact we’ve let ourselves and our feelings be used and manipulated in the name of this atrocity to commit others.
Have we learned the right lesson? Have we done the right thing? Is the world a better place today? I hope dearly we can say yes, but my gut seems to tell me otherwise.