Ten years ago, on the morning of September 11, there was not a cloud in the clear blue sky. When the planes struck the Twin Towers, I was peacefully asleep in the same Brooklyn apartment in which I live now. I was awakened by the continuous ringing of my telephone, as family and friends from Japan and Europe left messages one after another, on my answering machine. “New York is in a panic!” I turned on the television, stunned. I ran outside to the promenade, up on a small hill, with its perfect view of Manhattan across the East River. Many of us stood and just stared at the smoke rising out of the World Trade Center. Some people were crying quietly. Others had their ears pressed to their radios, listening to the news.
I felt a tight knot in my stomach. What’s going to happen to the world? What should I be doing right now, right at this moment? I felt the need to get this on film, whatever “this” is, so I ran back to the apartment to grab my Sony video camera. As I hurry back to the promenade, I hear a loud explosion. A bomb, I think. I wonder for a moment if a war has begun. It was the sound of one of the Twin Towers falling to the ground. The smoke instantly covers the blue sky, and our world is suddenly coated in gray. It’s impossible to see even a meter ahead. There is a stir among the crowd, “Where will they attack next? The Brooklyn Bridge?”
At that moment, I am overwhelmed by the sheer force of “hatred”. Somewhere in the world, there are people who despise America, and those of us who live in New York, and that “hatred” has turned to “violence” in this form. This shock has no words. More than anger, I am overcome by despair, loss of hope, sadness. To learn of “hatred” of a human being expressed on a scale such as this.
I took my camera and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, heading into Manhattan. I must record this, I think. So this is never forgotten.
Once I crossed the bridge, I was met with people covered in dust and ash, streaming toward me like zombies. Most were in their business suits. They must be people who work on Wall St. The scene was straight out of a movie.
In Manhattan, I attempted to head downtown despite the wave of people walking past me, but to no avail. I didn’t have a press pass at the time, so there was no way I could get near the grounds. After walking a bit longer, I ran into someone I knew. She worked for Deutsche Bank whose office was right by the Twin Towers. She was covered in white from head to toe. One of the towers fell just as she neared her office, and she was thrown off her feet. It was a miracle she wasn’t hurt. But she was barefoot, and the inside of her bag was filled with ash. When she saw me, she broke down in tears. Afterwards, she walked unsteadily to her apartment on the Upper East Side. Awhile later, I learned that she had quit her job, and moved to Alaska.
After the encounter, I walked aimlessly around a chaotic New York City and continued to roll camera. In the late afternoon, exhausted, I finally walked across the Manhattan Bridge back to Brooklyn. I checked my tapes once to see what I had captured, and then threw them in the back of the drawer. Hiding behind my camera, I was able to somehow get through that unreal day. But I never watched those tapes again.
I walked to the promenade today, where someone had left a photograph of the Twin Towers and flowers, with the words “NEVER FORGET” next to them. People say that New York, no, America, the world, has changed after 9/11. I examine my own life to see what has changed, and how. Airport security became tighter. New Yorkers have become more patient, and kinder (it seems). “If you see something, say something” became a motto in our lives. A change in the Presidency, and the severe economic recession. Other than that, it might be hard to pinpoint what has changed in NYC. But the shock of that day has not yet been fully absorbed, in all of us. Ground Zero has been renewed with the building of the “Freedom Tower”, but the remnants of the Twin Towers that flew across the river to our riverbank that day, still remain. Or so I feel.
On the tenth anniversary, the words “Never forget” are everywhere, on street corners, in the media. Former President Bill Clinton said in a speech that this day will not be forgotten 2,500 years from now.
It is important to remember that on September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 innocent people lost their lives in New York. But it is also important to remember that two large wars began as a result of 9/11 (though one is not even directly connected to 9/11). Several hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and ten years later, we still do not see an end.
I remember another occasion when President Clinton used the words “never forget”. In a press conference as he was leaving office, he was questioned by a reporter about the impeachment scandal involving Monica Lewinsky, and whether he will ever be able to forget the incident. Clinton replied that he never could.
In English, the words “FORGET” and “FORGIVE” are often used together, as if in a set. And it may just be me, but when I hear the words “Never forget 9/11”, I also hear the message “Don’t forget this hatred. Do not forgive”.
My yoga teacher in New York teaches, “Just forget. It will allow you to forgive.” Forget, and then forgive, or we will never rid of the hatred, confrontation, and wars in the world, our community, workplace, and among families and friends.
Amid the chorus of “Never forget 9/11” across the city, I watched over my footage of ten years ago, and thought about those words.
Photo by Megumi Sasaki