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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering











When I was in college, I visited New York City on a family vacation. From the moment I hailed my first cab, I knew I would relocate to the city as soon as I could. NYC quickly got into my blood and thus began my love affair with one of the greatest cities in the world. I loved it all--from the glamour to the grime—it was the life I imagined for myself. The shows, the fashion, the food, the people, the ability to blend in—it all worked for me. I know most people don’t cherish the thought of blending in. For me, at the time, NYC was the first place where I wasn’t the mixed girl whose race no one could identify. No one asked me where I was from (unless they caught a hint of my southern accent) or what race I was. After a youth filled with “I know you’re mixed but what race do you consider yourself to be?” and “What nationality are you?” I was happy to finally be in a city where no one really cared. Almost everyone was from somewhere else and I LOVED it.


I moved to New York in 2000 for school and started my first internship in May, 2001. That summer, I saw several Broadway shows. I shopped everywhere from little stands in Times Square to flagship designer stores on 5th Avenue. I ate everything from 5 star meals prepared by celebrity chefs to delicious authentic world cuisine from small hole in the wall restaurants. I mastered traveling by subway and Metro North. I learned the best ways and places to hail a cab at night. I made great friends. New York was everything I’d dreamed about since that first vacation. Then, just a couple of weeks after my internship ended, at 8:46 AM on September 11, 2001, a plane ripped through the beautiful blue sky and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I was sleeping and my phone began to ring. It was my Dad telling me to turn on the news. Our call was cut short and service was out after that for several panicked hours. In the space of the next 2 hours, I watched with the world as the day’s horrific events unfolded. All I could think about was my friends that lived and worked downtown, those that were already on the train on the way to work, and all those nameless faces that I’d passed and smiled at during the many times I shopped, ate and hung out in the World Trade Center over the Summer.


Over the next few days, most of my conversations with NYC friends were filled with stories of what happened to them. Apartment windows blown out, running out of the subway and being engulfed by a cloud of smoke and debris, walking home over the Brooklyn Bridge consoling and being consoled, sitting in the student lounge with fellow students and faculty fixed to the television and trying to figure out how this could have happened. My family and friends from back home were certain that I’d be moving back to Atlanta. Sometime during that week, I decided I wasn’t. Sure, the security I felt was ripped from under me but the spirit coursing through the city as people united to help each other replaced the foundation I’d firmly stood on prior to the 11th. Life, though different, moved forward.


Once the clean-up was far enough along for parts of downtown to be re-opened, I was able to go down for lunch with friends. The smell of burnt ruins invaded my nostrils and the flyers/posters showing the lost and missing outside of several churches left a knot in my throat and tears in my eyes. But, I took it all in, just as I took in the city as a whole the first time I visited.
Today, on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy, the sky is blue and the sun is bright. The temperature is perfect. There is an almost completed Freedom Tower shining above the city as a reminder of our resilience. The memorial is open and a tribute ceremony is going on as it has every year since the towers fell. As you reflect on this day and what it has meant in your life, listen to the messages encouraging you to make this a day of service. Whether big or small, the goal is to act in a way that will uplift someone else. Today, I am volunteering with a group of teens through a mentor/support group I created with a former colleague. I am also starting my September gratitude project (stay tuned for details on that). What will you do today? Visit http://www.911day.org/ to pledge your commitment to do something today.

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