9/11 10 Years Later: Navigating the Post-9/11 World

On Wed, Sept 7, 2011 at 11:54 AM "Luis F. Clemente, Ph.D. '09" wrote:

Unlike what was said in the e-mail that contained the link to this web site, I was not an undergrad on 9/11. I was an MA student in New York City.

I used to live in Brooklyn Heights with my older brother. I woke up at 8:45 that morning to go to campus and was brushing my teeth when the first news bulletin flashed on WNBC, where we had the TV on. Sometime later I went to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which has a fantastic view of Manhattan. That day, not quite. One of the memories of that day that will stay with me forever was watching how one of the WTC towers was ablaze, along with several hundred people.

I still thought to myself, like a previous poster, that it was a freak accident and I would still go to school. I stopped at a bar to check on one of the TVs there when I saw the late Peter Jennings on ABC News breaking the news about a jet plane slamming onto the Pentagon and saying something like "Don't hold your breath." I still headed out to the Borough Hall subway station to take the 4 train to 14 St./Union Square, where my school was (New School for Social Research).

That train did not run too long, as we were told on the PA system that there were no trains into or out of Manhattan, so we were stuck on the tunnel. I thought that someone would blow up the tunnel, which has one section underwater between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and that everything would be flodded. I had the onset of a panic attack, until an old African-American woman noticed and told me to calm down. I remember I sat next to her for the duration of the jam, and those of us in that car were even joking for a time. There was even a guy that gave out business cards. Some subway personnel eventually made it to our train and turned it back to the station. We all left thinking that a really bad day was over and that once we all got home everything would be ok.

Or so I thought...

Once I made my way out of the station, I noticed that the sky, clear and blue earlier, was somewhat gray -- but still blue. Even the handrails were dusty. After I made it to my brother's apartment and turned on the TV, I noticed what really happened: the Twin Towers collapsing. At that moment, I lost it. I lost all sense of calm. I turned off the TV, pulled down the blinds, and tried to go to sleep. I wanted the day to be over, but I guess it was not going to.

It took me a while to get enough composure to try to reach my parents, whose phone was ringing off the hook all day because of me, my brother, and a sister who lived and worked in the Bronx at the time. What I saw in the days, weeks, and months after the attacks is still vivid in my recollections: the smoke that billowed from downtown Manhattan for weeks or perhaps months, missing a week of classes because my school was inside the initial off-limits zone, the literally non-stop coverage in every TV station, the many vigils held on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and elsewhere (it was renovated before that day and, after that, it became smeared in candlewax), the poles and walls all over the city plastered with missing person leaflets, all the firemen and fire trucks I saluted, the anthrax scare afterwards, even the 2001 World Series and how it gave New York City a boost of joy -- that is, until Arizona won.

It took me a long time to make my peace with the events of that day. I'm thankful to God I lost no one that I knew, but my experience was no less traumatic than that of those who were actually at the WTC or were first responders; indeed, I have since admired the FDNY for their heroism and sacrifice, having lost so many that day. Navigating the post-9/11 world was surely rough, and things simply changed for all of us. Yet it is in situations like this where you just have to stop and think about what really matters.

Nothing lasts foverer, even life. Only love remains.

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