One of my favorite books these days is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins where rocking teenage heroine Katniss Everdeen is forced to fight to the death with 23 other kids in an annual event organized by a post-apocalyptic government. After the event, privileged citizens who saw the event on television talk about where they were and who they were with during the games and not about the death and destruction they saw. That scene reminds me of how some of us are reacting to the upcoming anniversary of September 11, 2001 as I see more articles and blog posts that ask “Where were you when you found out that the planes crashed the World Trade Center?” It’s an understandable way to deal with complex emotions about something so horrific that we could never have imagined it before it happened. But it also allows us to escape truly reflecting on a terrible tragedy where thousands of people lost their lives that day and even more were changed irrevocably.
I have definitely been one of those people who have been trying to avoid the upcoming anniversary but have realized this week that I can’t escape it and shouldn’t. On 9/11/01, I was stuck underground at the World Trade Center on the 3 train for almost 30 minutes and had no idea that the planes were crashing into the buildings above me. Later that day, I watched part of WTC 7 collapse from a spot in front of St. Vincent’s Hospital with hundreds of people who were waiting for survivors that never came and made a decision while I was standing there that has haunted me for the past decade.
In August 2001, I had begun work on my plan to leave New York. I had moved to NYC after college because of an opportunity and a boy, but my dream since I was a little girl obsessed with politics was to live in Washington, DC. While I loved the friends I’d made and the work I’d been a part of in New York, it has always felt like owning a fantastic pair of shoes that never fit quite right, become irritable and even painful after walking in them for long periods of time, but you never throw away because they look so great on the shoe rack. After some networking and lots of job applications, I’d been invited to a high level interview for a federal agency in DC on September 13, 2001. Standing with all those people on that corner, I just felt that I could not leave NYC and cancelled my interview the next day. For various reasons, I never pursued employment in DC again even though the desire to live somewhere outside NYC constantly returns. While I try not to have regrets in my life, it’s sometimes hard not to think about all the missed opportunities of a decade based on that emotional decision.
This summer, I traveled to Newark, NJ a few times a week to work on our Teach Newark project through the PATH station next to the World Trade Center site and watched tourists take pictures there as if they were at a theme park, contributing to an increasing level of sadness and anger about that day. I’ve been thinking about all the people who woke up that morning thinking they had a lifetime in front of them and didn’t, and all the people who did make life-changing decisions inspired by the day, whether they are grateful or now regret their impulsive moves. As we approach the anniversary in a few days, I encourage you to make it a day of personal reflection and think about your own life and whether you’re honoring time the way it deserves- personally and professionally- and what you can do to change that in the next year and decade if you’re not. Truly never forget.