NYC Impressions: the 9/11 Memorial

I remember this day very clearly. I was 9 years old, still attending primary school. I remember it was sunny in Portugal, and classes had just recently started. I was home, so it had to be past 3:30pm because that was when my classes ended. Now, memory is a malicious thing and it can be tricky, so I cannot assure that the details I’m about to describe really happened, or if it’s simply a result of memory amalgamation. But in my head, I remember being in the kitchen, having my mid-afternoon snack – usually bread with chocolate spread – while my mum and grandma were outside, killing chickens – we always had chicken for eggs and meat. I was watching cartoons on TV and the emission was interrupted. Something serious was happening in New York City. Now you need to understand that while I was young, I had a strong attachment with this place – as I explained in my post about turning thirty, I was born in the state of NYC, and used to ask my mum time and time again to show me their photos from when they lived there and tell me stories about that place.

I saw the first images – a plane collided with a huge tower. I ran outside and called my mum. I knew this was important, this was serious. Then there was the other plane. The reporter was saying that was the plane investigating what was happening, but then this plane collided with the other tower! And I saw it. I saw it happening. Live. As so many other thousands and thousands of people. That image and the terrible images that followed would mark me forever, as I’m sure it did for so many people around the world. As a 9-year-old child, I was confused. I didn’t understand what was happening or the why. Yet, I was sure of one thing – I was angry. I was so naive back then. I mean how is a 9-year-old supposed to understand terrorism and war? To be honest, how does anyone understand it? Actually, I still don’t. But I think it was because New York, the U.S. felt so close to my heart. And of course, then the damn day was televised to exhaustion. I remember seeing the images of people throwing themselves out of the windows in despair. People on the street and fire brigade and emergency services were covered in grey dust. I remember my mum trying to call their friends in Long Island to no avail – lines interrupted, with everyone trying to reach their families. Internet wasn’t really a democratised thing, such as it is today.

In fact, the 9/11 is considered the first global catastrophe that was experienced in real-time by hundreds of millions of people around the world, and its television coverage and aftermath was the longest uninterrupted news event in the US television history – on air for 93 continuous hours. In the US it was the start of the day, in Europe it was mid-afternoon, for eastern Asia it was mid-evening. Most of the world was awake. and these uninterrupted hours of barely seeing any proper reporting happening, only emotions were given space to act.

And my emotion was anger. Since then, I refused to watch any documentary or movie made about these events. I don’t need it. I remember it all too well. And today I know how individual, economic and financial interests are part of a game above all of us – but we, the common civilians, are the ones who will be sacrificed in the name of anything that brings wealth to the already wealthy – to the few.

The 9-year-old me wanted justice, but what could a 9-year-old do besides daydreaming? A 9-year-old in a small village in Portugal? I was nothing. And I’m still nothing. Yet, funny enough, I recently read Clarissa’s Ward Book “On All Fronts”. And she describes that the 9/11 was the event that propelled her toward a career in Journalism. In her own words:

“I felt a sense of profound shame that I had not been more engaged, that I had not been paying proper attention to what was happening in the world, that I had been so self-absorbed.

I also felt a sense of purpose and clarity that I had never experienced before. It sounds presumptous but I knew I had to go to the front lines, to hear the stories of people who lived “there” and tell them to the people back home. In the process, I hoped to give people over “there” a sense of what people “here” were really like. I wanted to get to the root of the miscommunication that was fueling this insanity, this mutual dehumanization. We didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand us. That much was clear”

Clarissa Ward, in On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist

And ten years later I too thought I could be a journalist. I wanted to tell stories, the stories of the voiceless. I felt being a journalist was such an honoured path to take. It was the duty of all journalists to show how we are all equally important and, simultaneously, equally unimportant. I did not follow this path down the road because of the huge disappointment this industry became to me personally.

But I’m here to talk about how under 36 degrees, my skin turned into goosebumps and I just felt cold when I saw the empty holes the Twin Towers once occupied. I’ve never seen a memorial so powerful in my life. So heartbreaking. Those images I had seen on TV so many years ago, came back to me, rushing, deconstructing the present and building up the past around me. I was reliving those events as if I was there. And it was something my brain did without me asking. And while I knew how much these events had marked me, I did not realise it had marked me such – to the point I was reliving a memory of an event I, thankfully, was not a part of. When I looked beyond the reflective pools and saw all of those high buildings, part of the Financial District, full of offices and busy workers, I couldn’t stop thinking how terrifying it must have been for them to see what was happenings just there. What crossed their minds. If anything at all?

And that is all for today’s post.

Love, Nic

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