I woke up early yesterday to get a long training run in before the heat and humidity got too bad. Since it was the 15th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I toyed with the idea of driving down to Liberty State Park and running along the Hudson River waterfront. It has a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. With too many things to do however I couldn’t afford the extra travel time and stayed local. I ran in Saddle River County Park were I have run so many of my miles over the years. I remember running there on the first time the anniversary fell on a Sunday and thought it was odd that there were baseball games scheduled (like there was something wrong with playing baseball, but running was okay?). This year – and in recent years – I have felt more of a sense of moving on. This is good, I guess.
Living in the New York City metro area, we were all touched by it, in closer way. I have friends that were there. Several shared their stories on social media yesterday, bringing back to life everything I had heard, and saw on television, from that horrible day. I knew people that perished. A guy from my elementary school worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. One of the moms of a boy at my daughter’s daycare was there for a meeting at Windows on the World. My daughter, now a High School Junior, was only 17 months old. To her and all her fellow students at the High School level or younger, September 11th is a historical event.
My dad was born in 1921. He not only remembered the Kennedy Assassination, but the Pearl Harbor Invasion as well. I called my parents after hearing the news. They lived on the East End of Long Island, but I was concerned nonetheless, as we all were about our loved ones that day. I remember him telling me that of all he had seen in his 80 years, that day’s events were by far the worst.
There was a sense that day of wanting to gather up everyone that was important to you and find shelter in the comfort of your home. Many businesses, even out in the suburbs where we were, closed early. I remember walking toward my boss’ office to tell him I was leaving, and as I was moving toward the door had an epiphany – which became a defining moment in my non-profit career. I was the vice president at Bergen County’s United Way. It was our mission to “help people.” We were looked at to be the convener of other non-profits throughout the county in times of crisis. When I got to my boss’ office door, instead of saying I was leaving, I said, “what do you need me to do.”
A staff meeting to discuss our response was the logical next step. While that was being organized I went out to the deli to bring back lunch for everyone. As I ventured out I saw DPW crews placing flags – usually reserved for the 4th of July or Memorial Day – along the road. The mood was somber, but understanding and loving, like I had never felt from total strangers before. No one knew what to think or say. But we glanced at one another – maybe on the verge of hug – a look that said we were united and all in this together.
There wasn’t much that could be done that day. From an organizational stand point, we didn’t know what was needed. No one knew. There was no real confirmation yet on who made it home and who didn’t; who belonged in those cars left at train stations across our communities. Counseling agencies where put on stand-by and a fund was created for the generous in our community who would want to help. But that’s about it. The real work began on September 12th. What healing could begin started on the 12th. As my father would say, “The first day of the rest of our lives.”
It’s been 15 years. And as I reflect on what has transpired between then and now, I’m disappointed. Yes, we will ”#NeverForget” the attacks and our experiences that day, but the good will has been lost. We are no longer moved to hug total strangers. At the very least, we don’t even feel like we’re in this together. That’s sad.
I am glad my daughter doesn’t remember 2001. I hope her generation never has that monumental event that defines them like Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, or September 11th. I do wish they could know the love and compassion that existed in the days and weeks that followed. I don’t know where or why we lost that. I could speculate, but that would lead to a political discussion and I promised myself I wouldn’t use this blog to promote my political opinions (that’s what FaceBook is for!).
I do know that my daughter’s generation, who are often criticized (as every younger generation has been by the older since the beginning of time), are some of the most compassionate, passionate, tolerant and understanding people I know. I hope that they can take over and spread the love, and dismiss the hate that has become such a part of who we have become as a nation.
Perhaps today…September 12, 2016…can be the first day of the rest of our lives where healing can begin. Again.
Jersey City, New Jersey. September 2013.