Drying our tears and moving on

For what seemed like months every day after Sept. 11, 2001, the New York Times ran an article that devoted several paragraphs each to victims of the terrorist attacks.

And every morning, I cried.

I couldn’t stop myself from reading about these people, familiar enough to be my friends, engaged in their regular routines that day, just as I had been.

I, too, was in an office building in Manhattan when the first plane struck the twin towers. But my office was uptown, not downtown, and I was on the 19th floor, not the 95th or the 104th. My windows faced the wrong direction. I could see only the smoking towers on the television set in my colleague’s adjacent office.

And, then, the towers were gone.

In a special 10th anniversary report this Sunday called “9/11: The Reckoning,” the Times includes those “impressionistic” pieces about roughly 2,500 of the victims in a section titled “Portraits in Grief.” The portraits will be online in that report, arranged alphabetically by name.

They were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses and friends. They were quiet or the life of the party; about to get married or a dedicated soccer dad; a scholar or sports nuts; quick with a smile or possessor of a big heart.

Like many others in this very big city, I did not personally know any of the people who lost their lives at ground zero. But we were still in a daze – for days — unsure of how to react to a hate-filled attack maliciously designed to kill as many of us as possible and shake us to our core.

Downtown, covered in ash, seemed doomed. People talked about moving away; some did. At least one person I knew refused to ride the subway, fearing an attack underground. For a long time, I would search the sky every time I heard an airplane overhead, watching its path until it disappeared.

And, yet, sometime in early 2002, I noticed a difference, at least in the way I felt each day, as if we were emerging from deep mourning.

At the end of June this year, I took visiting family members to the Top of the Rock observation deck in midtown Manhattan. For the first time, the new tower – 1 World Trade Center – really registered in my brain as it rose on the southern end of the island.

Later in the summer, I saw the tower — then a little more than 70 stories high — close up as I walked a wide perimeter around ground zero on two separate occasions, the first to take a good look at the site (for the first time in five years) and the second to conduct an interview and scout for photographs.

To me, the new tower is a symbol of one of the ways that New York has moved on since 9/11 – not bigger or better, but renewing itself while being respectful of the past.

Because, of course, we will never forget.

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