New York, NY – The morning of September 11, 2001 was no different from any other. It was early and the weather was calm. There were changes in the making. The summer had just ended, and the feel of autumn was about to take place. My shift began at 6:00 a.m. and as usual, I arrived on time. I was only an apprentice, however. I had just passed my onsite test, which officially made me an engineer. I know exactly where I was when the news came about planes hitting the World Trade Center. I know what I saw and remember exactly what the sky looked like. For the life of me, I never thought I would see the day when American fighter jets would maneuver above New York City.
I was Uptown at the time with a perfect view of what looked like a hole in the sky. I saw buildings burn. I saw where the planes hit the Twin Towers. I saw them crumble, and I remember the way my city ran in fear. But more, I remember the eeriness of the next day. I remember holding a woman in Penn Station because she was covered in dust and weeping with her little dog. I remember the names of the friends I lost on that day, as well as the friends I have lost since, in connection to the attacks. Now, here we are 20 years later.
Most of all, I remember the empty streets. I remember the black pillars of smoke billowing up towards the sky. I remember the cleanup. I remember the rebuild and my first visit to the monuments. Moreover, with a heavy heart, I remember my friend Father Mychal Judge — Victim #0001.
I find myself at a stage of disbelief. I cannot believe 20 years have passed since I saw my friends and yet, I am at a loss over how 20 years can pass in the blink of an eye.
The one thing I have seen, is our city’s ability to rebuild. Changes were made in our fire safety plans to avoid loss and improve evacuation strategies. I find myself in the odd predicament of discussing mental health and crisis management with people who were only infants at the time of the 9/11 attacks. There are some who have no recollection of the Twin Towers at all. There are many that only know about the attacks from reports they’ve read or footage they’ve seen on the news.
Texting wasn’t a “thing” back then. There was no such thing as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It is clear that, generationally, we have changed hands. In some cases, there are those who have no emotional attachment to the attacks whatsoever; hence, the odd predicament of speaking about 9/11 sensitivity and the post traumatic stress it has left behind.
They say nothing teaches us like experience. I agree. There is no way to teach someone what the air smelled like on September 11. There is no way to explain the sounds of the cries or the expressions on the faces of people who witnessed the attacks. As a writer, there is no way to accurately describe the moment of disbelief when the first plane hit.
In closing, I can only say this: America, I have not forgotten you. I have not forgotten my beliefs, nor have I forgotten my love for you and our city. I have seen destruction, and yet, I have seen us rebuild, brick by brick, in union and in solidarity. So, for now, I close with the following: I will always remember. I will never surrender. United we stand. Sleep well, my friends. Until we meet again.
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as an Author, Writer on thewrittenaddiction.com, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Addiction and Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org