Editorial note: Today, I am leaving New York to pursue my Master’s degree in Creative Nonfiction in England. I have a lot of strong memories about this little island at the center of the world that I will carry across the Atlantic, but none as strong as 9/11. In 2009, while working as a reporter, I penned this reflection. So long New York, I’ll miss you.
On September 11th, 2001 I woke up to a new world; we all did. As each anniversary has passed I have tried to take a step back to see how the world has been doing since; and how I fit into it all. This year, I went to a memorial dedication in New York as a journalist.
In the past few months, while working as reporter I have pretty regularly been going to events and mingling amongst the small press corps from other media covering the same event. Most often it’s just a handful of people from other local papers that I recognize, but less regularly I end up at places with a dozen or more journalists. Generally speaking, although we have free reign of the place we tend congregate in the same spot, almost always off to one side and near the front. Everyone is busy taking notes and snapping pictures and the only real interaction between us is to ask things like “Did you get that guys name?” Most people at any event have a personal connection and are emotionally invested in it, a reporter is not. Reporters are working; listening for a good quote and looking for a good picture, all the while trying to remember the faces of the people you will interview later and brainstorming the general outlay of the article you will write. Reporters are almost constantly taking notes and there is very little time at these events that they are idle. There’s a lot going on, but all of it is without emotion, it’s a strange sort of detachment from the surroundings that no one else there has.
The nine eleven dedication I went to was for all the victims from Suffolk County (178). There were bagpipes, politicians, police, firemen, relatives and hundreds of everyday people. There was also a large press corps, probably around three dozen media people were there, most of us to the left of the podium in front when the County Executive, Steve Levy, began speaking. As he recalled the day and what it meant to the world, to America, to everyone he stood in front of, I stopped being a reporter. I forgot to take notes or take pictures and just listened. I listened to the stories of firemen who rushed into the burning towers to save others, of passengers who crashed their own plane on flight 93 so that others may live, of citizens who went out of their way to help strangers in need, of the day when we all became victims and all lost a part of our innocence. I vividly recalled the graphic images I saw on TV, of not being able to call my family in New York, of how it felt to have the world change before my eyes. When I took a step back I realized that these would all make great quotes for the article I would write, but when I looked around I saw that even in the press corps, few people were doing more than listening and remembering. The detached looks that I had grown used to were replaced with the same somber faces that everyone else had. No one cried openly, but some people quietly wiped tears from their checks and most everyone else carried a look that said they were close. During those thirty minutes or so, there were no reporters, just citizens. I did take some notes and did snap some pictures but for the most part I stood silently and listened, mourning the day that will forever change my life and the world we live in.
When the ashes fell over lower Manhattan that day, they covered all of us the same color.