Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Little Things

The 5th anniversary of 9/11 was a benchmark for a lot of New Yorkers. Not unlike the majority of Americans, most of us cannot believe it has been five years. But getting to know people, who directly experienced September 11 in their hometown, has revealed to me how differently New York City remembers that day.

For those who lived and worked in or around Manhattan in 2001, a lot of how they view and remember September 11 has a great deal to do with the little things. It's the little things that much of the nation didn't think about immediately following the terrorist attacks or in the years after. The Devil-wears-Prada "boss" told me yesterday that September 11 is still hard for her because in 2001 she worked for a small company in the Financial District that lost a lot of its employees the day the towers fell. When Flight 11 hit the North Tower, a corporate meeting, which included a fair number of her colleagues, was taking place in a conference room above the impact zone. She was several blocks away in her office and immediately evacuated. It was days later when she was permitted to return and discovered dozens of BlackBerry messages that had been frantically sent by her coworkers to the company-wide email account while they had been trapped in the North Tower. None of the attendees of that corporate meeting survived.

My coworker and friend David told me that he and his ex-boyfriend had gone up to the roofdeck of the apartment they shared in Lower Manhattan after seeing the North Tower in flames on the news. He said that for miles, almost every rooftop was crowded with residents or employees all staring downtown in disbelief. His mother, who lives in Jersey, remembers seeing hundreds of cars left in the commuter lots by men and women who had parked in Jersey and taken a ferry or train to the Financial District. David's mother told him that many of those cars sat there untouched for weeks.

Little stories like that made me think of all the dry cleaning that never got picked up, movies that never got returned to Blockbuster, the apartments that eventually needed to be cleared of personal belongings and cleaned out by family or friends. And then I remembered how hard it had been for me to even just brush my hair in the weeks immediately following Rickey's death. The little, normal things took an unbelievable amount of effort when I had been so emotionally exhausted. My mother came to live with me in my apartment for awhile, and her presence had more to do with tending to the little things, like making sure I got out of bed. And then there was attempting to resume the small routines for the first time after Rickey died that made me think things like, "The last time I did this, Rickey was still alive ..."

Multiply that by 2,948 and a lot of little things become an even bigger albeit less obvious loss. I did not attend any of the hundreds of September 11 memorial ceremonies that took place throughout the city yesterday. I worked until 6 p.m. and then immediately jumped on a train to the Upper East Side to view four different apartments for rent. As it is often said, life goes on.

After the real estate broker and I parted ways on Third Avenue, I headed toward the 103rd Street Station to catch the 6 train. It was a moment before I noticed that a lot of people were standing on the sidewalk looking downtown. Two parallel beams of light were shining from the Financial District filling the space where the Twin Towers once stood. I took a minute to let my world stop for the second time yesterday, to remember strangers I've never met, and to wish inner peace for their loved ones, who I know are often haunted by the little things.

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