9/11, 20 Years Later

A brush with death you don't forget

In the new Village Voice, I wrote about my memories of 9/11 as a kid growing up in New York City. My father worked in the World Trade Center and my mother worked several blocks away, at 26 Federal Plaza. Luck kept my father out of his office that day. Had he been there, and gone up to the Twin Towers to take the breakfast meeting that was planned, he would not have lived. Like many New Yorkers, 9/11 has haunted me since.

Here’s how my essay begins:

The mood of the city is, in some sense, always retrospective. Once the cataclysm arrives, we have the uncomplicated dividing line of history, everything before and everything after. The sky was blue, many will recall; that day, the sky was a deep and heartfelt blue.

For the first time — the first of a perpetual time — there are young men and women alive who have no memory of September 11. Every generation has a lament like this one — the first not to remember the end of the Great War, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassinations. Slowly, like glaciers breaking off into a warming sea, the memory-havers depart and those who are left behind must consult books and search engines to build a collective reality of what was. For anyone cradling such a memory, there must be a tingle of exceptionalism: I was there and you weren’t, and you can only know so much.

Yes and no, yes and no. The aging millennials who came of age in New York City, my own cohort, do carry certain realizations from that day that can’t be explained to someone who wasn’t there. On September 11, 2001, I was 11 going on 12, a Brooklyn kid living in a neighborhood of cops and firefighters. Bay Ridge is a 12-minute-or-so drive to Lower Manhattan if traffic vanishes—you have to wait until late at night for that to happen—or a one-seat ride to Ground Zero, if you want to endure the creaking R train. There are Bay Ridge side streets named for the dead; a number of them died on that one day.

I hope you read the whole piece. I’ll be back next week with another newsletter essay. Have a good rest of your day.